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Mystic Arts Center parking lot to be fully automated

The Mystic Arts Center announced Friday afternoon that its parking lot will be fully automated, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, starting Tuesday.
The center converted its parking lot to an automated system whereby the patron swipes a credit, debit card or access card when entering and exiting the lot last August, but has kept lot attendants on site from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. since then to help users with the transition to the new system. After Tuesday, the attendants will only be on site to help with parking for special events.

In a press release emailed to the local business community through the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce Friday, the center explained how the new system works and noted changes made after a public information meeting about the system held in October.

To enter the lot, patrons must swipe their credit card, debit card or access card. Local merchants can continue to offer validation to their customers by purchasing vouchers at the Mystic Arts Center. The one-hour vouchers are priced at the discounted rate of $1 per hour, plus Connecticut sales tax, and sold in lots of 50. Half-hour vouchers are now available for purchase as well in lots of 50 for $25 plus tax.

When exiting the lot, the patron swipes the same credit card used when entering and then swipes any vouchers to deduct the time noted on them from the total. More than one voucher can be used, and patrons are charged by the half-hour, at a rate of $3 per hour $1.50 per half-hour. That rate has remained the same since 2007.

As a result of discussions at the October meeting, a new option was designed especially for employees of downtown businesses. The MAC is now selling pre-paid access cards for the same discounted rate of $1 per hour to be used in place of a credit card. The cards come with up to 20 hours of parking and more hours can be added when the balance runs down.

The system includes a 20-minute grace period for drop-offs and pick-ups, and each entrance and exit lane has a customer service button to call for assistance or in the case of emergencies. Calls will be transferred to an answering service when the center is closed.

Though the release was not emailed en masse until Friday, MAC Executive Director Karen Barthelson said Thursday that she had been personally visiting local businesses to let them know about the change.

Bruce Carpenter, who owns the Green Marble Coffee House, has been an outspoken critic of the new system since it debuted in August. He said Thursday that he was "disappointed" that the MAC had decided to make the system fully automated without restoring a cash-based option.

The lack of a cash option was one of the most repeated criticisms of the new system at the October meeting. Barthelson said the center had looked into the possibility of adding a cash-based component to the system and determined that such a move would be cost-prohibitive.

Carpenter has had an open letter to the directors of the center posted in the window of his shop since August, and was among 725 signatories of a petition asking the MAC to abandon the new system.

A more detailed story on this issue, including further comments from both Carpenter and Barthelson, will be posted on this site Monday morning.

In the release, the MAC reiterated previous assurances that the system is safe and contains state-of-the-art security precautions. Additionally, the arts center and Steamboat Wharf Company, which owns part of the parking lot, said in the release that they remain committed to working with the public to provide an easy and safe parking experience.

Revenues from the parking lot go toward maintaining it. The MAC portion of the revenues help to support the local arts community by subsidizing MAC education classes, exhibitions and public programs.
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