Public parking in downtown Springfield to remain free throughout 2022

Public parking in downtown Springfield will remain free the rest of the year, but what paid parking may look like in the future is still being discussed.

The idea of implementing paid parking in downtown Springfield was discussed before the pandemic by city officials and would have included a paid parking garage on North Fountain Avenue as well as potentially adding a paid parking lot and metered street parking.

However, plans to implement paid parking in downtown as part of a coordinated parking system were put on hold due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That decision was a response to immediate economic impacts caused by the pandemic as well as a decline in downtown traffic early on in the pandemic. Those factors also influenced the city’s decision in September of 2020 to make a new parking garage on Fountain temporarily free to use, this news organization previously reported.

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The three-story parking garage, known as Park at the 99, on North Fountain will remain free for visitors at least until the end of this year, said Springfield City Manager Bryan Heck.

Prior to the decision to make it free, regular rates to park in the garage were $2 per hour at a daily maximum of $6; the monthly rate was $55. All of those fees have since been waived and when those fees will return will be reevaluated during the second half of this year, said Heck.

However, the decision to implement other forms of paid parking in downtown is a separate matter, Heck said, meaning that if the parking garage becomes a paid one, it doesn’t mean that other public parking spots in downtown will become paid as well.

The City of Springfield owns the parking garage on Fountain, on-street parking spots as well as a lot across the Public Safety building also on North Fountain Avenue.

The city has an agreement with Reef Parking to manage the garage, known as Park at the 99, including having someone stationed at the parking structure as well as managing contracts around the maintenance of the garage.

Springfield city commissioners will be asked during their next public meeting on Feb. 15 to vote to allow for the renewal of the Parking Management Agreement related to the garage with Reef Parking for an amount not to exceed $112,568.

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Currently, the options of implementing metered parking or converting the city owned parking lot into a paid one are not on the table at this point, Heck said. But the city could discuss those options in the future or what methods would better serve a more coordinated parking system in the downtown area.

“The conversation remains fluid and we will make decisions based on the state of the economy and parking demand in the future,” said Heck.

The initial decision to suspend paid parking, especially at the garage, was due to the immediate impacts of the pandemic and lesser traffic in the downtown area, including as office spaces transitioned to remote work.

Further decisions to continue to make the parking garage free have been motivated by economic instability amid the pandemic as well as the need to support retail and restaurants in the area.

The parking lot located across Springfield City Hall is also free to park at, a decision made after it was purchased at the end of last year from a private entity by SpringForward, a nonprofit dedicated to downtown revitalization efforts.

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