Downtown businesses split on installation of parking meters

City of Kent Parking Meter

Patrick Williams

Kent business owners and managers are split on how they feel about the installation of 223 parking meters along some of the city’s busiest roads.

“Parking meters always bring out lively discussion on both sides,” Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said.

The meters will be active Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will cost $1 per hour with a two-hour limit.

The city expects the meters to be up and running by the end of October and has already had the poles for them erected. The meters cost the city a little more than $172,000, Ruller said.

“Parking meters are being brought back into downtown Kent in order to provide relief for those small mom and pop shops that rely on frequent turnover of parking spaces for customers,” Ruller said.

The city handed out fliers to local businesses starting about late September with information about the meters and a map of where they will be located.

Video credit to Patrick Williams.

Tim Huth, owner of One Love Yoga Boutique, said he thinks the meters will negatively affect business because members will have to consistently pay for parking. That is why the boutique will reimburse members, many of whom are students and wouldn’t be able to afford to pay the extra cost, Huth said.

“Obviously every time you make one decision, it affects other things other than just the problem you’re trying to solve, and this is one of those cases,” Huth said.

Students, who were downtown on the weekend of Oct. 3, said they also disagreed with the implementation of the meters.

“It’s just going to be one more complication that (students) are going to have to deal with,” said Kody Gann, a senior computer graphics and animation major.

The city needs to be focused on putting in more free parking, rather than installing meters, which make parking cost prohibitive, said Ethan Elias, a sophomore environmental conservation biology major.

There are plenty of free parking options that will still be available, said Bob Mayfield, partner and owner at McKay Bricker Framing and Black Squirrel Gifts.

The majority of downtown destinations will be within a couple blocks of free parking, said Mayfield, who is a member of the Parking Action Committee, the group that recommended the meters be installed.

“You probably won’t have to walk any further than you do when you go to a Wal-Mart or a mall,” Mayfield said. “I’m more worried about the perception of it than the reality of it.”

The meters are not going to provide the city with much revenue, he said, but the revenue from the meters will go back into downtown development.

McKay Bricker Framing and Black Squirrel Gifts will give a quarter back to customers who make a purchase of any amount, Mayfield said.

Jack Amrhein, Ward 2 councilman, said he moved to Kent in 1976 when there were more than 400 parking meters. The city removed them when small businesses closed. But now the situation has changed again.

“As we began to redevelop, we realized that really what we have is a mixed-use development, in which we have people who need long-term parking, need middle-term parking and then short-term parking,” Amrhein said.

Long-term parking, which downtown Kent’s parking garage is designed for, caters to visitors spending an extended amount of time downtown, like guests staying at the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center, Amrhein said.

Meters fall under the umbrella of short-term parking, which caters to people who are making a quick stop or purchase, he said.

Amrhein was one of eight city council members who voted that the city install the meters in January. John Kuhar, Ward 4 councilman, had the only dissenting vote.

“I don’t like the meters, but I’m not that adamant against them,” Kuhar said.

Kuhar said he doesn’t like how people who work downtown during the day will have to pay, but others visiting at night for leisure won’t have to.

“Workers shouldn’t have to pay for parking spots if they’re coming down here,” said Erin Faltinsky, a junior visual communication design major.

Others said they believe the meters won’t fix the problems they are supposed to.

“I don’t think they’re going to accomplish eliminating the congestion that is from all the people circling the block trying to find a good parking space — accessible parking,” said Tammy Gildersleeve, a title agent at Title One Agency in Kent.

The implementation of the meters is unlikely to have a large effect on Twisted Meltz’ business, but it could make customers upset, said George Curfman, the assistant manager.

“A place that is established and has a following, people are going to go to, regardless,” Curfman said. “I’d be worried, though, if I were opening up a new restaurant.”

Nate Marshall, who is a production director for NR Media Group in Columbus but is originally from Kent, said he understands the city trying to increase turnover rates. Many stores, including ones on Main Street near where many of the meters will be installed, might require customers to stay longer than two hours.

“A lot of the businesses that are here are more where you can go in and spend some time — look at books, look at jewelry,” Marshall said. “I think we should give the public the opportunity to have that time without necessarily being concerned with meters.”

Supporters and dissenters of the meters, while they may disagree on the details, said they agree the intent to improve parking conditions is in good conscience.

“We’ve said all along that our goal is business success, so we’ll watch the meters’ impact very closely, and if we need to make changes after we get started to make sure that goal is accomplished, we’ll definitely do that,” Ruller said.

Contact Patrick Williams at [email protected].