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Parking prices put damper on downtown

By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor I try to use my time well and when I found I had an hour between assignments, I thought I would make a quick photo-taking trip to the annual Business Market Show at the MassMutual Center last week. I couldn't find any on-street parking close by, so I opted to park at the Civic Center Garage operated by the Springfield Parking Authority (SPA). I thought I'd grab a ticket, park for an hour and pay 75 cents. Instead I was told there was no hourly parking and instead I had to shell out $7. I sat in my car completely flabbergasted "Seven bucks?" I counted out seven ones and was told I'd get a receipt, which I didn't. I then found a spot and headed to the show. I mentioned this to Russ Denver, the president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, and he assured me the chamber had nothing to do with setting the parking fee. I did some snooping and discovered the SPA issues a monthly report on special events and what is it charging for parking fees. For instance, if you attended "The Lord of the Dance" there is a pre-paid fee of $3. That seems reasonable. Now if you bring the family down to the "World's Largest Pancake Breakfast" on May 15 there are fees of $7 and $12. Why charge that much for an event taking place on Saturday morning? Downtown is pretty dead on a Saturday morning and there is no demand for parking. Why not help families enjoy the event by not charging for parking? Or maybe, making the fee just $1? With all of the emphasis on bringing people to downtown this kind of pricing will be seen as gouging by many. The SPA certainly isn't helping people think kindly of coming downtown to doing business there with this kind of policy.
Downtown development has been a subject in both Springfield and Chicopee this past week and in each community market rate housing is seen as the catalyst for additional retail and services. In Chicopee, the City Council's Zoning Committee has put on hold plans for a zoning overlay in the downtown area that could encourage developers to build market rate housing. It could also encourage them to build housing that is not market rate. The fear expressed by some in Chicopee is that Chicopee center doesn't need more affordable housing, which is, of course, code for housing for working class or working poor people. The Bissonnette administration sees the overlay as another enticement for developers to consider the downtown area. Perhaps it will be, but so far there hasn't been an analysis done on the other Massachusetts communities which adopted an zoning overlay. Many in Chicopee believe if the condo project at the Cabotville complex actually is finished, it will bring in younger and more affluent people who will then help rebuild the area. The same idea was being discussed at an Urban Land Institute one-day event about redeveloping the riverfront in Springfield. Housing is the key. Build market rate housing from two story buildings with the parking underneath the living area to an apartment tower. If people are living there, the other parts of the redevelopment puzzle will come about. Of course, we have to have more jobs in the area to attract people as well as developers wishing to roll the dice. In Chicopee's case, we have to find people willing to live on the top floor of a factory complex, while in Springfield people who yearn to have a view of the river from their home must also be fans of living next to train tracks. Those are tall orders, but certainly I want to see both of the urban core neighborhoods redeveloped. This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to news@thereminder.com or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.
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