BILLINGS- A conversation about parking in downtown Billings has taken the spotlight after motorists were ticketed for parking in a paid lot after hours during last week’s Christmas Stroll.
The lot is owned by Diamond Parking Service out of Seattle, and Billings resident Jeff Blatnick believes the company used the Christmas Stroll as a way to cash in on parking violations.
“I saw a lot of envelopes on windshields,” said Blatnick.
Blatnick said he was eager to get downtown and enjoy time viewing art and strolling the streets of his city.
“I decided to go downtown and support local business. I had friends that had art on display so I shot down there after 6 p.m. found a parking spot and went and had a good time with the community.”
When the night was dying down, he was disappointed to see a parking ticket placed on his windshield.
“Yeah I got a $20 ticket, after about 15 minutes that I was parked there,” he said.
He said he admits he assumed that any parking after 5 p.m. was free.
“I used the parking spot many times after 5 p.m. and I’ve never received a ticket. I guess I’m used to living in a small town. I parked there before. I never even looked at the sign,” said Blatnick.
But indeed, a sign is posted at every Diamond lot alerting drivers that the lot requires 24/7 pay.
Diamond Parking City Manager Peter Sanderson says the lots aren’t anything new. Diamond has been in Billings for 35 years.
Diamond operates 19 existing parking lots scattered throughout downtown with about 2,200 parking spaces.
“Parking in general nationwide is a service provided to its consumers that allows for visitation, shopping and supporting your local businesses. Without Diamond Parking in Billings, we would eliminate 2,000 plus consumer parking areas,” said Sanderson.
He says in Billings, the need for this service is there.
“Diamond parking also offers a service for business owners and landlords to manage parking abuse or potentially market unused parking for public parking,” he said.
Still, Blatnick feels duped by the situation saying he saw nearly 30 tickets placed on cars the evening of the Christmas Stroll.
“You know the parking garages were full, and I feel like it was kind of one of those nights where they went out and enforced it, especially because of that,” said Blatnick.
Although he admits he was wrong to not read the parking lot sign, Blatnick believes if there are too many obstacles for folks to get downtown and enjoy the community, Billings will suffer.
“Everybody is working hard to keep downtown alive. The Downtown Business Association (Alliance) works hard to pull people in and has community events like this,” said Blatnick. “Several people mentioned they can go to the West End, and they don’t have to pay for parking.”
In light of Blatnick’s complaint, Sanderson points out that during the Christmas Stroll, Diamond offered a $3 rate, which covered 15 hours of parking to help combat the issues of drinking and driving.
“Parking should be viewed as a positive service for the community and paid for just as you would a pack of gum,” he said.
He also says that during the holidays they will manage their locations as they always have and as they see fit.
Sanderson also says there are easy ways to pay at their lots through cell phone apps on both Android and Apple in addition to dropping cash into the pay box.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News