Parking fee signs may get bigger in indianapolis

Businessman Ted Bulthaup knows the frustration motorists face when trying to find a parking space Downtown, especially during special events.

"People should know what they have to pay before they pull into a place," said Bulthaup, who owns Hollywood Bar & Filmworks. "We've had people who have had their charge changed based on how affluent their car looked."
Now an end to such confusion may be in sight.
Under a proposal gaining political momentum, owners of garages and lots would be required to post larger signs advertising their daily and hourly parking rates.

The proposal could take effect as early as October.

Such an ordinance is intended to ensure that drivers don't get stuck with a bait-and-switch, but officials have argued over how much larger, exactly, signs need to be -- from 4-inch letters to 3-foot letters to signs posted on 9-foot poles.

"The idea behind the ordinance is that consumers will not be surprised when there is an event night and there is a change in normal parking rates," said Republican City-County Councilman Scott Schneider, one of a growing number of council members who is supporting the measure.

More than that, proponents said they hope to stop situations in which a driver pulls into a parking lot without knowing the price and then can't leave.

That's fine with Mickey Gurske, 27, who has a guaranteed garage spot most nights but must fend for himself when there's an event Downtown.

"Usually the rate's not very well-marked," Gurske said. "And I'm just looking for the cheapest spot."

The proposed sign changes, which are being considered by a council subcommittee, involve two of the hottest debates facing Downtown -- the scarcity of parking and the proliferation of all types of signs.

For years, city officials have struggled to appease business owners who argue that there's not enough parking Downtown to draw people in from the suburbs. Larger signs may highlight underused spots.

Bulthaup is among several Downtown business owners who support the push for clearer parking regulations.

The current code regulating parking garages was written in 1997 -- when Downtown was a very different place, Bulthaup said -- and calls for 4-inch letters on the signs.

Despite initial resistance -- especially to super-size signs -- a manager at the city's largest parking garage company said he was likely to be on board, especially if an expected compromise calling for 8-inch lettering was passed.

"People who come down to park aren't looking at prices, they're looking to find a spot, get out and get to their event," said Mark Pryor, general manager of Denison Parking, which controls more than 20,000 spots in Indianapolis.

"But," he said, "I think we can live with it."

The ordinance could come before a council committee next month and the full council by October.

City planners, meanwhile, intend to review the regulations for all signs in coming months -- a process that could completely change the size, look and placement of advertisements, including parking garage signs.

Some cities already regulate rate postings, but not all. Scott Varner, with the city attorney's office in Columbus, Ohio, said no such restrictions are in place there.

But Indianapolis officials said the rules were important here, especially since most Downtown visitors wind up using off-street parking.

There are 68,000 parking spots Downtown, and only 3,255 are at meters, according to Indianapolis Downtown Inc. -- meaning the bulk are in public or private parking garages.

"Nobody comes Downtown to park," said Fred Laughlin, director of management services for Indianapolis Downtown. "They come Downtown to go somewhere, and they need to park in order to do that."
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