LETHBRIDGE: The familiar 'ping' of coins into a downtown parking meter slot may soon be an endangered sound in the city's downtown, if one company has its way.
Lethbridge-based "Day Media" approached council with a business scheme that would see advertisements on parking meters. A percentage of the profits would feed back to the city so residents don't have to pay for parking.
Council rejected the idea, but Mayor Rajko Dodic told the group this "isn't the end of the road" for them. He recommended they do some more research and create a formal business plan before pursuing it further.
Company president Steve Day says he's been developing the concept during the past two years, and has the informal backing of several businesses that he heard of through "friends of friends." The company wasn't able to formally solicit businesses with the concept because they don't yet have a business license. But they did bring it to the attention of the Heart of the City Downtown Revitalization committee and the Downtown Business Revitalization Zone [BRZ].
The two downtown business groups are split on the issue. Heart of the City, a committee that's a division of city council, rejected the sponsored parking scheme. But Steve Day says the committee misunderstood certain aspects of the plan, and he hopes to win them over with a formal presentation. At the other end of the spectrum, the BRZ - an independent group formed to promote business downtown - fully supports the idea. Executive director Ted Stilson wrote council a formal letter, waxing enthusiastic about the plan's potential to attract more business to the city's core. "I believe that their sponsored parking concept would be an excellent tool to attract more customers to the downtown," we writes. He goes on to say he would be "excited" to see the "unique" idea implemented in the downtown.
The city's elected representatives are not as sure. Councillors raised several concerns about the company's lack of a formal business plan, the fact the idea was already rejected by the city-directed Heart of the City group, and the concept of placing paid advertisements in the public right of way - which is currently not allowed under city bylaws.
"This would be quite an exception, and an exemption to that rule. And I could see it opening the door for other advertisers wanting to get in on that," says alderman Jeff Carlson.
Carlson says the presentation just left him with too many questions, and that many of his concerns echoe those of the city committee that originally rejected the idea. He says the fact the company tried to go around that decision undermines the process and sets a precedent that could drag the issue out "for years and decades."
"I do get concerned when somebody does approach a committee, the committee makes a reccommendation, and then council says - send it back to committee for more discussion," he says. "There needs to be some trust factor between council and committees of council, that when a committee makes a reccommendation, council trusts it."
Representatives of the sponsored parking plan say their experience at city hall has inspired them to apply for a business license and come up with a more formal plan, which they'd like to bring back to the Heart of the City group within a month.