Drivers might have a better chance of finding a parking space in downtown Baton Rouge with planned improvements that should also increase the amount of money the city-parish makes from parking.
“Your meter system is from the stone age,” John Fregonese, of the Portland, Oregon-based Fregonese and Associates, told the Metro Council, which is expected to vote later this month on a $100,000 contract with the consulting firm to address the issue.
Fregonese plans to transform downtown parking into a moneymaker for the city-parish, which could then use that revenue to fund parking garage expansion and to install high-tech parking meters that take credit and debit cards or are synched to a smart phone. The money for his contract would come from past parking revenues.
Assessments show East Baton Rouge is not bringing in as much parking revenue as it should because of antiquated meters and other problems.
The Fregonese and Associates strategy reveals that more drivers use on-street parking than the parking garages, but neither of those venues are collecting the number of dollars the city-parish should expect.
In fact, the River Center parking garages on the corner of St. Louis street were only 55 percent full in the past year and ran a deficit in 2014.
Fregonese outlined steps this week to the Metro Council to modernize the parking options. Those steps include installing new parking meters, improving access to parking, providing better customer service and implementing better revenue collection.
Once his contract is approved, people downtown should start seeing some parking improvements, such as expanding the River Center parking garage and installing street-side parking meters that take credit cards so drivers don’t have to fish for change.
“If you want to do anything downtown … finding that place to park, we want that to be easy,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District. “We want that experience to be pleasant, as well as leaving.”
Baton Rouge has 2,890 off-street parking spaces downtown available for the public. On-street parking downtown is more scarce, with only 970 spaces.
Ideally, the metered parking spaces could bring in $550,000 annually for the city-parish if all of the meters were paid and enforced. But downtown parking meters only brought in less than half of that, at $251,000 in 2014, and that number dropped to $164,000 in 2015.
The city-parish can generate more revenue from the meters once it makes parking more convenient for drivers, Fregonese said. If Baton Rouge implements newer-age parking meters that people can pay with debit and credit cards, drivers would be more likely to pay.
He wants to add solar-powered meters that sync to cell phones so people can pay their meter via phone whenever time is running out. And meter enforcement is another tool to make sure people are paying.
Fregonese said the city-parish should hire a private company to enforce parking meters so the Baton Rouge Police Department does not have to spend time doing so.
Better technology is also one of Fregonese’s answers to the 1,350-space River Center garages’ money problems. In 2014, those expenses outweighed its revenue by $22,000.
Automated revenue collection would be a more efficient way to make sure people are paying to park in the River Center garages, Fregonese said. He said the city-parish should raise the price of parking in the garages to market value, and they can match those prices at other off-street parking options downtown.
He also said he will make use of parking apps, allowing people to see in real time where spaces are available downtown. Some apps even allow people to book a parking space at their destination.
Rhorer said he has been impressed in other cities by signs that show how many parking spots are available in garages, and he would like to see the same in Baton Rouge.
Increased revenues flowing into the city-parish could fund an 800-space parking addition to the East River Center Garage, Fregonese said. Such an expansion could cost from $9 million to $12 million.
Among the most significant problems with the River Center garages is they are not marketed. Fregonese said he wants to do a better job of making sure people know what parking options they have downtown and using signage to direct people to the River Center garages.
Rhorer said demand for the garages should increase as downtown flourishes and become especially popular once the streetcar line is implemented between downtown and LSU.
“You’ve got a library coming downtown, your downtown is booming,” Fregonese said. “You’re going to need more parking.”