SARATOGA SPRINGS — If you find it difficult to park in Saratoga Springs, a solution may soon be on the horizon, but it may cost you.
The city issued a request for proposal (RFP) on Feb. 12 to kick start efforts to address the city's parking problem.
Bids for a paid parking system and management services will be accepted until March 14.
The city is seeking "a professional parking management company to study, design, implement and manage a paid parking system in downtown Saratoga Springs that will net the maximum financial benefit to the city balanced with downtown business vitality and efficient traffic management," according to the RFP.
Paid parking would extend in the city from Congress Park to Saratoga Springs City Center — east of Broadway to Maple Avenue and west of Broadway to Railroad Place.
Saratoga Springs boasts 1,300 public on-street parking spaces and 1,480 off-street parking spaces, which include six parking lots and three parking decks.
Anthony "Skip" Scirocco, commissioner of public works, said the City Council is looking for a consultant to offer parking solutions.
"They're experts in the field and they do it on a daily basis, so we're relying on them," he said. "The consultant we hire will develop a plan based on the input we gave them."
A few of the things the city is looking for in a paid parking system include a permit system for residents and downtown employees, and smart parking technologies such as an app that allows users to find available parking spaces.
"We want to be able to provide some relief for our year-round residents," Scirocco said.
Once the city receives bids, he said, the City Council will review them and hire a consultant to develop a plan.
"They'll present their plan to City Council and there will be public hearings to get input from residents," he said. "We can still include ideas from the public until the City Council submits the final decision."
The city is slated to award the project to a consultant by April 17.
A parking study will be conducted in the summer months before a final report and presentation are expected at a City Council meeting on Aug. 7.
Parking-management equipment is scheduled to be installed from mid-August until mid-September.
Ryan McMahon, Saratoga Springs City Center executive director, said parking is a hardship when events are held.
"It's a complaint that we get from many of our clients," he said of parking. "Also, when we're really busy, local residents have trouble getting into businesses."
Emily DiSiena, a Saratoga Springs resident, said paid parking could negatively impact businesses.
"Rent is already so high in the city, so there has to be a benefit," she said. "People say the stores are already expensive here, so if they give people a reason not to, they won't shop local."
DiSiena added that it's not fair for the city to only offer permit parking to city residents.
"The city is supported by people from surrounding areas, so it's not fair to them," she said. "Why wouldn't they go to Ballston Spa instead?
"We need to keep this area strong."
Chris Olson of Saratoga Springs said he can see the arguments for both sides of the paid parking issue.
"Free parking for us would at least make it more palatable," he said.
However, Olson, who teaches yoga downtown said paid parking could impact his class attendance.
"It's already hard to find parking, let alone pay for it," he said. "But I don't think it would discourage people to come downtown, because we always get a good track crowd."
Brendan Dillon, owner of Hamlet and Ghost on Caroline Street, said paid parking would send the wrong message to visitors.
"It feels unwelcoming," he said. "People come to Saratoga Springs to spend good money downtown and I don't like the idea of people having to constantly think about if the meter is running."
Mayor Meg Kelly said the city has been looking to solve parking issues for the past several years and formed a Parking Task Force in 2015.
"The task force came up with solutions, which were adopted by the City Council last year, so we're putting those into action," she said. "The first one was finding a parking-management company to help with the problem."
Kelly said while the City Council hasn't decided if paid parking is the way to go, she said it would help alleviate issues of people parking in the city for an extended period of time.
"Paid parking would help keep people moving instead of having them park in one spot all day," she said. "We have to see what they come up with."