SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The difficulty of dealing with downtown parking is a perennial topic among both residents of and visitors to Saratoga Springs, where the shops and restaurants on and around Broadway are the lifeblood of the economy.
The city, trying to balance the needs of a variety of people from downtown business workers to the tourists who are the city's summer lifeblood, is within a few weeks of issuing a request for proposals for a comprehensive downtown parking management study.
While there have been at least a dozen piecemeal downtown parking studies conducted over the last 50 years, "We haven't done a comprehensive plan in a long time," said city Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin. "I believe this is a path for finding the best way forward."
Martin discussed plans for the RFP during a parking forum held Thursday night at the City Center. About 50 people, some with business interests and others who reside downtown and are feeling crowded out of parking spaces, were in attendance.
"Every year the parking gets tighter and tighter, and one day I may not have a space," said one downtown resident who was among a half-dozen people to speak during a public comment period.
Renee Rohan, who works at Saratoga Olive Oil on Broadway, said employers who work eight-hour shifts downtown sometimes have to leave and move their cars during the day because of time limits in existing lots. She submitted a petition with 120 signatures she said were gathered in four hours. "Everyone has the same complaint," she said.
Once a large parking deck now under construction across Maple Avenue from the City Center opens late next year, the city will have just over 3,000 downtown parking spaces, either in public lots or on-street, Martin said. There are also 2,552 spaces in private lots.
"That's the supply and we're trying to figure out the best way to optimize the supply, or if we need more supply," Martin told the audience.
The City Center garage will charge for parking -- something that hasn't been common in the city since on-street parking meters were removed in the 1970s, when urban renewal demolitions and other property acquisitions lead to the creation of downtown parking lots.
While paid parking is common in other downtown areas, Saratoga Springs' public parking has remained free since that time.
"In the past, the elephant in the room has been paid parking," Martin said. "The RFP will not have a bias for or against paid parking. We are looking for the best solution."
Martin, who did not seek re-election and is leaving office on Dec. 31, said he and RFP consultant Amy Ryan hope to have a draft RFP to the City Council in the first part of December. Ryan said public comments will be incorporated into the request, which will be targeted towards firms that have expertise in parking management plans with the hopes that they'll respond with a proposal.
Martin said he hopes the council will issue the RFP in January, with responses due within a few weeks after that. While he said it is too soon to know how much the study will cost, he hopes it can be completed within a few months, once it is underway.
The public may also comment on the plans at [email protected]