The parking decks in downtown Rome are a key element of the city's long-range parking plan, but debate this week showed many are still counting them out.
Mayor Bill Collins said he's hearing complaints that "people don't want their wives parking in a deck." A number of others who spoke at the City Commission meeting Monday echoed his sentiments.
However, Becky Smyth, the Downtown Development parking services manager, said there's been a concerted effort to address those concerns since the parking plan was adopted in May 2018.
"The city and county have invested a lot over the past eight months in lighting and security," she noted.
The long-range plan is to convert the on-street spaces downtown to short-term paid slots and encourage the use of the parking decks by making those spaces free.
The district encompasses Broad Street between the South Broad bridge and Riverside Parkway — and a block deep on either side to include West First and East First streets.
The city launched Phase 1 on Monday. Street-side spots remain free but License Plate Recognition readers are now used for enforcement. The goal is to gather data for about six months before moving to the final phase.
For now, parking is free at the Fourth Avenue deck after 5:30 p.m. on week nights and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. The deck is across the street from Jefferson's sidewalk cafe and the Floyd County Administration Building.
On weekdays, and at the other two decks, the first hour is free. It's $1 an hour after that, up to a maximum of $8 a day. The new Third Avenue deck is next to the Town Green and Forum River Center. The Sixth Avenue deck is on the City Auditorium side of the Joint Law Enforcement Building.
Smyth said the decks are now staffed and there are regular patrols, by police cars and officers on bicycles.
Floyd County also installed energy-saving LED lighting this spring, at the same time they did the State Mutual Stadium common areas. Facilities Manager Ryan Davis said there's a big increase in illumination — going from about half a foot-candle to five foot-candles in the decks on Fourth and Sixth avenues .
The light also has a whiter daylight cast, instead of the old yellow glow. But it's not readily apparent unless you're inside.
"The lights are on motion sensors," Smyth said. "As you go in, the light brightens. When you leave, the light dims."
Commissioner Craig McDaniel said he was initially critical about the reliance on the decks but there are good directional signs on Broad Street now and the facilities are much cleaner. Instead, he's been hearing complaints about on-street parking enforcement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
McDaniel led the move Monday to cut the enforcement back to 6 p.m. and extend to three hours the amount of time each day that a vehicle could be parked on the street.
It's been set at two hours since 1998, to prevent employees from squatting in the prime spots. But the new LPR technology deployed Monday brought the limit to the forefront of the debate.
"If you have a business lunch and come back later for dinner with your wife, you will exceed the two hours," Commissioner Randy Quick said. "And those are two very innocent aspects: business and leisure."
The motion passed 5 to 2 on a first reading, with the final vote scheduled for the board's June 10 meeting.