Beaufort News

Beaufort merchants petition for 2-hour free parking year-round

A parking meter in downtown Beaufort decked out to offer free parking for holiday shoppers in November 2013.
A parking meter in downtown Beaufort decked out to offer free parking for holiday shoppers in November 2013. Staff photo

An online petition with 300 signatures is calling on Beaufort City Council to extend its holiday parking program year-round.

Bay Street Outfitters owner Tony Royal suggested extending the two-hour free parking policy, during a November council discussion about the city's parking contract.

"I merely asked the question ... that if two-hour free parking is good for four weeks out of the year, then why wouldn't it be good for the rest of the year?" Royal said.

City Council is not likely to decide whether to extend the parking program when it meets Tuesday night, although it could approve a contract with a new parking manager. Council is expected to vote on a multi-year contract with SP+ Municipal Services at 7 p.m., according to the agenda.

The free parking is intended to encourage people to visit and shop downtown during the holidays, and runs from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. People can feed the meters and kiosks if they want to stay beyond the free period.

The petition, posted at Change.org, asserts that if parking rates remain unchanged and shoppers avoid downtown between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., many Bay Street business will have to relocate.

Rossignols owner Ginger Aimar said she wrote and circulated the petition because action is needed before a new parking management contract is signed, even if that means postponing approval.

"Let it go for a couple of months and let it be done right," she said of the contract. "Don't jump into something."

"So what if we don't have parking fines for two months?" she added. "That'd be great. Business is slow in January and February, anyway."

As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, the online petition had 301 signatures. Aimar said paper petitions also are being circulated.

Mayor Billy Keyserling said he signed the petition because he welcomes the discussion, although he believes the policy and contract can be decided separately. Keyserling said the city, which has operated under an extension agreement with current contractor Lanier Parking Solutions since the beginning of November, is running out of time.

"If we don't come to a decision (on a contract), then we are basically choosing not to have parking management," he said. "Lanier could go away, and we would basically have chaos like we've never known before."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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