Free parking is coming back to downtown Gainesville until June 1.
The Gainesville City Commission voted 5-1 on Thursday to suspend the paid parking structure in the center of downtown Gainesville.
Mayor Lauren Poe was the only dissenting vote.
Since Jan. 3, residents and local businesses have been hit hard by the $1 per hour parking fee from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for high demand on-street spaces that used to be free for two hours.
Business owners and residents alike agreed during public comment that the new parking mandates were classist, ageist, inconvenient and stymied local business.
After four months, paid parking will return. This time, City Commission will work with downtown business owners and workers to discuss a more appropriate implementation plan.
Noe Lopez, owner of Wyatt’s Coffee, and other downtown business owners who were able to attend the meeting were disappointed in the city’s evident lack of planning and failed policy.
“We have gradually experienced the slowing down of business as parking enforcement measures and their presence has increased,” Lopez said. “The continuation of these parking measures are affecting downtown businesses that have managed to survive the thick of 2020 and 2021.”
Anthony Rue, owner of Volta Coffee, said he is frustrated with the constant changes in downtown Gainesville’s parking structure without the consultation of business owners that will be impacted.
“I hear endlessly from my customers about the frustration of never knowing what the parking situation is going to be like when they come downtown,” he said. “They just want consistency, and they want access.”
Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut also spoke during public comment.
She suggested seeking the input of downtown business owners as well as the Chamber of Commerce regarding the economic impact of the parking fees. Additionally, she advised commissioners to consider the economic impact on disenfranchised citizens and residents that are technologically challenged or do not own a smartphone.
“The bottom line is we are diverting people — we’re driving people — from downtown and negatively impacting our downtown merchants,” she said. “And most of all, we’re inconveniencing our neighbors.”
Commissioner Harvey Ward admitted the city did not devise a plan to mitigate the financial loss of businesses and their customers who bear the brunt of the new parking fees. He said the city should plan within the upcoming two to three months how to mitigate these drawbacks before reinstating the fees.
“I’ll take full responsibility, but I’ll also say I’m nimble enough to want to make the changes,” Commissioner Ward said. “We can do better. We should do better.”
The commission will work to cover the paid parking signs soon, but it did not specify a date. The two-hour parking time limit will still be enforced.
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Carissa Allen is a third-year journalism and political science double major. She is excited to continue her work on the Metro desk this semester as the East Gainesville Reporter. In her free time, you can find her scuba diving, working out or listening to a podcast.