Downtown Helena parking discussions continue

Posted at 9:52 AM, Mar 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-22 13:34:21-04

HELENA — Since the Business Improvement District’s meeting about downtown parking last month, a small group from the BID has met with city staff to discuss potential solutions to the issue of parking downtown.

“One thing that you are not hearing me say is, don't worry about it, BID’s got it covered. We need to all work together and ask for what we want with downtown parking,” said Executive Director of BID, John Dendy, during the meeting.

Critics of the parking meters downtown find the current parking system an inhibitor of business. Haley McKnight, Sage and Oats Trading Post manager, pays for her employees' parking. She’ll pay for anywhere from 3-5 employees’ parking at about $240 per month per employee. She says this prohibits the amount of money she can pay them and worries that employees in the downtown area may look to commercial stores outside of downtown for employment.

“As the largest tax base in town, I feel like we are subsidizing the county and big box stores. And it's really sucking all the life out of downtown when in most cities downtown it's the core of everything. It's the heartbeat,” says Sage and Oats Trading Post Manager, Haley McKnight.

A couple of ideas brought up during the meeting with city staff is to turn the top floor of the 6th Avenue parking garage into an employee parking area with a reduced permit fee as well as taking underutilized permitted street parking and turning it into 2-hour parking with the understanding that employees would use the space for permitted parking.

Angled parking was also discussed at the meeting. In order to keep accountability, the idea of a parking commission or advisory board to oversee the parking department has been discussed.

It was made clear during March’s meeting that no significant changes will be made until the next budget cycle. City Commissioner, Andy Shirtliff, says he's interested in lessening the burden on employees and businesses in finding solutions that work for businesses, employees, residents, and the city and is going to make sure the actual numbers are made clear.

“That's something I'm going to be working on as well in these meetings to ask for more of a fine-tooth comb look at our budget so that we can say how much are we bringing in, is it paying off the kiosks, or is it paying for staff?” says Shirtliff.