By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It could be an early Christmas miracle.
After shutting down the possibility at the committee level, Oshawa city council has had a change of heart and is moving forward with a project that will allow people to park for free in the city’s downtown.
As previously reported in The Oshawa Express following a request from the Downtown BIA, delivered to council in October, city staff were looking into the prospect of suspending the pay and display system on downtown streets between Dec. 11 and Dec. 22. The report that went before councillors during the community services meeting on Nov. 16, pointed to a report from 2005, where a similar program was introduced on a pilot basis, with limited results.
In December 2005, the city introduced a “Free After 3” program as a Christmas promotion. Following the three week period, it was requested the program be extended. However, the staff report notes that the program did little to provide an uptick in business for downtown stores, actually led to additional enforcement, and that a consultant would need to be hired in order to truly gauge the program’s effectiveness, and that the free parking impacted the self-sustainability of the parking program.
At that meeting, many councillors were skeptical about the idea.
“I have a reservation about supporting something that, in the end, we’re not going to have any knowledge (about),” said Counillor Nester Pidwerbecki at the time. “I have reservations about this working at all to be quite honest with you.”
However, following a motion from Councillor Rick Kerr, one of the vocal supporters of the proposal, council appears to have reached a compromise.
Previously, it was requested that the free parking be offered on a 24/7 basis, which many councillors felt would lead to people abusing the program and keep it from having the potential economic uptick for downtown businesses.
Councillor Kerr solved the issue for many councillors with a motion that would set the hours for free parking between noon and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, between Dec. 11 and 22.
Kerr noted that this would prevent employees who work in the downtown from parking on the street all day, and would allow people to come down for lunch and possibly do some shopping in the process.
“We have an incredibly growing downtown with respect to arts, culture and entertainment,” Kerr said.
Councillor Doug Sanders was hopeful the pilot project would have a positive impact on downtown businesses.
“By allowing the free parking, it will bring people downtown,” he said. “This shows that council believes and supports the downtown now and in the future.”
The motion carried unanimously, with Councillor Dan Carter not voting due to a conflict.