This story has been modified to correct the number of kiosk-style meters to be placed around the city and to clarify that motorists would enter their license plate numbers into the kiosk and pay for the amount of time desired.
PITTSFIELD — Downtown visitors will soon pay for public parking before they go shopping, dine out or take in a movie or a play.
The City Council has unanimously backed Mayor Linda M. Tyer's plan to establish metered parking zones between Berkshire Medical Center and the South Street/West Housatonic Street intersection. By a vote of 10-0, Councilor Lisa Tully absent, the council Tuesday night accepted the Pittsfield Traffic Commission recommendation to restore metered parking years after the coin-operated machines were removed.
The rates will range from 50 cents per hour up to $1 per hour with the initial 30 minutes free. About 45 kiosk-style meters would be strategically placed within the zones, with North Street-area patrons entering their license plate number into the kiosk and paying for the amount of time desired. Paid parking will be in effect weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p,m., 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the two garages. Parking will remain free after hours and on weekends.
The 21st-century metered parking electronic machines are similar to what Northampton, Amherst, Hyannis and other thriving downtowns have in Massachusetts.
The zone around Berkshire Medical Center will be priced at $1 per hour and that is the highest parking rate the city will be using for now, according to the city's Director of Administrative Services Roberta McCulloch-Dews. The new city parking zones include the provision that prices may be raised to up $3 per hour in the future if the need arises, but there are no zones that will be priced at that rate at this time, said McCulloch-Dews.
"We will not accept dollar bills, because that's what jams theses parking meters. It takes coins, takes credit cards and it will take phone apps," said David Turocy, the city's public services commissioner.
A prime goal is to free up spaces for business customers and to develop a fee system that charges more for the most coveted spaces downtown.
Downtown business owners have mixed feelings about charging potential customers for something that's been free for years. Richard Stanley, principal developer of the Kinnell-Kresege Building, home to the Beacon Cinema, views paid parking as an impediment to businesses and their customers at a time when the city is still in revitalization mode.
"We're right in the middle of continuing to get people to shop downtown, and now [the city] stick's foot out and people either trip over it or walk around it," he said.
George Whaling of Whaling Properties LLC that owns eight downtown buildings with 20 businesses.
"We want spaces used for retailers, restaurants and services on North Street. A lot of parking spots are being used by employees," he said. "The city can't install [the kiosks] quick enough."
Initially, 45 of the kiosks will be installed in November On North and South streets, the First Street parking lot, streets around City Hall and the Depot/McKay street areas, city officials said on Thursday. The remaining kiosks and other aspects of the overall $500,000 parking project will be phased in over an unspecified period of time.
Pittsfield's 10 municipal parking lots and two parking garages would have a rate of 50 cents per hour; the downtown corridor along North Street to the South and West Housatonic streets intersection at $1 per hour.
The parking fees would cover only daytime hours, not evenings, and would not be imposed on weekends.
City officials estimate the meters will generate about $409,000 in revenue that would go toward the city's expenses for maintaining public park spaces, maintenance of the kiosks and parking enforcement.
"We're looking to be conservative ... as we role this out and do something we really haven't done in a long time," said city Finance Director/Treasurer Matthew Kerwood.
He noted current parking permit fees, fines and other parking revenue don't cover city parking expenses.
The return of metered parking is also in response to a mandate the city make parking self-sustaining, a condition of a state grant Pittsfield received to refurbish the Mckay Street parking garage. To encourage use of the garage and save some downtown visitors a few dollars, the city may offer free parking on the open-air top level.
"I'm willing to look at free parking on the roof, [but] I think we need to implement the first phase of the plan," Mayor Tyer said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233