Jen Royal used to park on the top level of the city parking deck on Phila Street for her job at Creative Sparks just down the street.
Then last year, the city closed that area for maintenance, and Royal switched to the city lot bounded by Putnam, Spring and Henry streets.
But now, with 20 spaces in that lot fenced off as the staging area for a construction site, Royal can’t find a spot among the remaining spaces anymore. She now drives up the hill on Phila Street to a residential area where she can park all day.
It’s a little more of a hike than she used to make, but it beats the parking tickets she got from parking in two-hour spots and forgetting to move her car despite the reminder notes she and co-worker Hanna Valente would leave for themselves.
“It seems like every season, our spaces we’re used to keep diminishing,” Royal said.
It’s not just her imagination that parking has gotten tighter in the city. About 115 spaces that were available for free public parking last year are no longer, and workers, shoppers and residents are taking more turns around the block.
Most of the spaces were on private lots that were on lease to the city temporarily before they would be developed, but drivers came to rely on them.
For example, the 56-space lot near the Parting Glass Pub is now fenced and gated for guests of the new Hampton Inn only, and the former 26-space parking lot at Henry and Phila streets is a construction site for a mixed-use building called 54 Phila St.
And some public parking is temporarily out of use because of construction, including 20 spaces in the city’s lot at Spring and Henry streets and about a dozen parallel street spaces along South Broadway where Bonacio Construction is building its Park Place condominium project.
Developers of the property at 30 Lake Ave. are letting the Hampton Inn use the lot while they seek the city’s approval for their plan, Pavilion Grand, which would combine retail space, professional offices and luxury apartments.
The Hampton Inn eventually will have about 120 spaces in its own garage for hotel guests to use, said partner Mike Hoffman.
Scot Trifilo of Terrace Homebuilders, which is developing 54 Phila St., said he made his parking lot arrangements in writing with the city years ago — he would let the city use his property for public parking for four years and then the city would allow him to use 40 spaces of the Spring Street lot to stage his project.
“Because I’m aware of the difficulty in parking, I agreed to take only 20 of the 40 that were initially granted to me,” Trifilo said. He expects to use the space for about a year and said it’s a tight situation with only using half the staging space.
“It’s standard practice to work with developers,” he said of the city allowing him to use the lot.
Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, commissioner of public works, noted that Trifilo’s project will boost the city’s tax base.
“The city said rather than block off that street, we’ll give you a section of that lot,” Scirocco said. “It’s only temporary.”
Also, Trifilo raised money for the city recreation department by parking cars on his lot for a fee on evenings and weekends during track season.
The 35,000-square-foot building will have eight residential condominiums starting just under $600,000 on the third and fourth floors, office space for lease on the second floor and retail space for lease on the first floor. It also will have six parking spaces.
If motorists think parking downtown is tough now, it’s only going to get worse.
The city recently sold a well-used lot on Broadway beside Lillian’s restaurant to Bonacio Construction for a building project. The company had agreed to keep the parking lot as free public parking through the end of the summer this year.
And a City Center expansion is in the stars thanks to state funds that were acquired this year, but that means there will be a greater demand for parking when that project is finished in 2010.
“We don’t have enough parking up there now,” Scirocco said. “The city’s going to have to get real serious about the business district in the city.”
Until it does, people will be circling the city looking for a place to park.
“Even down here off the beaten path, you get a lot of complaints,” said Cora Burns, co-owner of Paper Dolls of Saratoga on Henry Street.
She fears that people who live in the surrounding area might just avoid downtown altogether.
“I’ve definitely heard from other people who say they don’t go to downtown Saratoga,” Burns said. “They’re the ones that we need in the off season.”