Free parking downtown coming to an end

People who park downtown will, in the next few weeks, find notices on their cars informing them free parking is coming to an end.
The so-called courtesy notices are an attempt to ween residents and visitors off free parking, courtesy of Hurricane Ikes damage to the meters, and prepare them for the new parking meters that will be installed by July, Craig Brown, of the Historic Downtown Strand Seaport Partnership, said.

The city has removed 707 of the hurricane-damaged coin-operated meters and more than a dozen of the larger meters that accepted credit cards. Shortly after Hurricane Ike struck Galveston on Sept. 13, 2008, filling downtown streets with a salty storm surge, city crews cracked open the machines and removed the corroded, green coins. They cracked the meters open again recently and found $1,600 more in coins that people fed into the dead meters. Those coins also were corroded. The city plans to turn the coins into the U.S. Mint for reimbursement.

New stainless steel meters, operated by Ampco System Parking, will regulate the blocks between 20th and 25th streets from Harborside Drive to Postoffice Street. The electronic meters which will operate on a wireless network will allow drivers to pay the $1.25 per hour fee with cash, change, credit cards and via their cell phones.

The meters will be installed on street corners, and motorists will park in designated spots marked off by paint. To pay for parking, motorists will punch in a parking spot number, instead of printing out a sticker to display on their dashboards.

There will be a shorter parking limit than before two hours instead of four hours and the meters will operate between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., city spokeswoman Alicia Cahill said.

The meters wont appear in front of downtown churches, Rosenberg Library or the county courthouse. Parking will be free on Sundays, per a compromise reached between paid parking proponents and Galveston College regent Greg Roof, who led a petition drive to abolish fees for street parking in Galveston.

Damaged meters south of Church Street and those near the University of Texas Medical Branch wont be replaced now. The city might consider replacing those meters, depending on how well the downtown system works.

The parking meters will come with new parking ambassadors, Brown said.

These ambassadors are parking enforcement officials educated in tourist information and armed with maps to help steer downtown visitors to island businesses and attractions. They will act as a sort of mobile visitor center, Brown said.

The meters also will bring wireless Internet to downtown, he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is picking up most of the tab to replace the parking meters, and Ampco System Parking will front the rest of the cost. The new meters are designed so they can be dismantled and removed before a hurricane arrives.

Though Ampco will issue tickets, the city and the company will share revenue generated by the meters. Under a deal approved by council members in August, the city will hand over its parking meter profits to the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which must use the money to advertise the downtown area.

Merchants and business owners have asked the city for years to reinvest parking meter money into downtown.
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