City offers free holiday parking downtown

Grace Johnson

Free parking for the holiday season in several garages near downtown Evanston was approved Oct. 12 by the Evanston City Council.

The parking promotion, which also took place last year, was approved again for a variety of reasons, said Martin Lyons, assistant city manager.

“It’s partly because it was successful last year,” he said. “But it’s also a recognition that the economy is in an even more precarious state and we need to help our downtown businesses.”

During the promotion last year, use of parking garages increased by 5.43 percent, said Parking Services Manager Rickey Voss.

Free parking will be available in three downtown Evanston garages: the Sherman Plaza Self Park, 1800 Maple Ave. Self Park and Church Street Self Park. Lot 60, a parking lot near Dempster Street, 1234 Chicago Ave., will also provide free parking.

This promotion will start Nov. 26 and continue through the entire month of December, with free parking all day on the weekends, and from 5 p.m. until midnight on weekdays.

“It’s a benefit during the holiday time,” said Eric Palmer, community information coordinator. “We want to encourage people to frequent downtown businesses, especially during the holiday season.”

This benefit will come at a price for the city, with a revenue loss of $30,000 for the six free weekends and $11,000 for the weekdays, Voss said.

“It’s a goodwill gesture,” he said. “Sometimes you have to eat a little revenue in order to try and bring goodwill and that’s the whole object of the thing.”

Because of the loss of revenue, Evanston cannot support the promotion for longer than the holiday season, Lyons said.

“Parking is a premium,” Palmer said. “This is a high density community, and quite frankly, still even with charging for parking, we are very competitive with other suburban areas, as well as the city of Chicago. It’s just very difficult to offer free parking, especially as we move toward a green commitment.”

In the mayoral election earlier this year, parking was sometimes a contentious issue. Due to the success of last year’s free holiday parking, some candidates proposed having some free parking downtown for the entire year. Eventual election winner Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she thought having free parking in the evening might help businesses that might otherwise struggle.

“We may need the 6-to-9 change in order to keep the restaurants thriving,” she told The Daily in February.

Despite the lost revenue, city officials are eager to increase downtown business.

“There are times when we have to look beyond the cost and understand that everybody is struggling in these hard economic times,” Voss said.

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