Council Expands Free and Discounted Parking Program Downtown

Monday, September 10, 2018, 10:52 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

East Lansing’s City Council, down to just three members with Mark Meadows and Ruth Beier on leave, has approved an expansion of the special parking voucher program downtown. The program is intended to help downtown businesses draw customers during the ongoing construction of the Center City District project by offering free or discounted parking.

Since Council last discussed the challenges faced by downtown businesses by the construction, the approach to signage downtown has also been revamped. As some business owners and Beier had asked, there are now fewer construction signs and no “road closed” signs in the downtown area. More signs announce that local businesses are open during construction.

At Council’s meeting this Tuesday night, the three Council Members present – Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, and Aaron Stephens – heard an update from Director of the Downtown Management Board Amy Schlusler-Schmitt on the ongoing efforts to promote local businesses during the construction and development downtown.

Schusler-Schmitt, East Lansing’s Community Development and Engagement Manager, presented Council with a summary of marketing and engagement initiatives that the Downtown Management Board and the Downtown Development Authority have been working on, in partnership with the City and other area businesses and organizations.

She outlined several initiatives that are intended to drive more traffic into area restaurants, like a voucher program backed by the Center City Development team to provide construction crews on their project with $4 coupons redeemable at several downtown restaurants.

According to Schusler-Schmitt since outreach efforts began following the start of construction, there have been more than 74,000 people downtown to attend festivals like the East Lansing Art Festival, the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival, and the Summer Concert Series. Her presentation also showed 520,000 impressions on East Lansing’s social media accounts, and 30,314 “EL Buzz” parking vouchers redeemed by downtown businesses.

Schusler-Schmitt directed residents to the East Lansing Buzz website for updates on construction-related road closures and detours. The site also has information on how the project is progressing.

Several of the programs under the East Lansing Buzz tagline are parking-related. At Tuesday’s meeting, Tom Fehrenbach, East Lansing’s Community and Economic Development Administrator, presented a proposal which would double all of the parking-related initiatives that are available to downtown merchants and shoppers.

This is part of an effort to address complaints about lost business by downtown merchants. Council voted through this expansion with a unanimous vote of the three members in attendance.

Businesses in the construction area will now each be given 270 parking vouchers per month, doubling the number they had been receiving. Businesses outside the construction zone will be able to purchase vouchers for 40% off the posted parking rates. Vouchers will now be good for twice as much time as they were previously.

The “find the bee, park for free” parking meter program will also be expanded to cover more spots down town. Drivers who locate a parking meter covered with a bag showing the bee mascot can park at that meter for free.

Fehrenbach suggested that the expanded version of the parking promotion campaign should run through January and then be assessed by staff to see if it is having a positive impact.

Draheim and Stephens said that they would like to see a way to provide merchants who used all 270 of their free vouchers with additional free vouchers if needed. Altmann said that getting more people to park in the ramps could have a positive impact on downtown businesses in the future, since people would get used to using the ramps.

 

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