BEAUFORT — After a summer of free parking in Beaufort’s bustling downtown corridor, town commissioners and leaders with the business association are looking at options for the 2021 tourism season.
Commissioners reviewed the results of a recently conducted Beaufort Business Association survey and discussed options during a virtual meeting Monday via Zoom. At the heart of the discussion was a request from the association to address a lack of turnover in Front Street spaces when no parking restrictions are in place.
“None of us like paid parking, but what we experienced last year was so painful, and we really have got to have a way to discourage people from parking all day long in the limited space we have,” association President Susan Sanders told the board.
In May 2020, town commissioners opted out of reinstating the seasonal program, which instituted metered parking along Front Street and several adjoining streets. The move, they said, was to remove possible inhibitors to commerce in the downtown area amid the initial restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But that expected decline for business didn’t materialize in full, officials acknowledged.
“Fortunately, as we’ve seen, actually sales and occupancy taxes collections have hit new records. So we’ve had plenty of visitors come down here at that time,” Town Manager John Day told the board.
Based on the association’s survey, Ms. Sanders recommended the board reinstate the paid parking parameters used in 2019. Increasing turnover for Front Street spaces was especially important, she said, as the spaces are often occupied for long stretches of the day by those using the ferry services that operate there.
In 2019, the paid parking season ran mid-May through early September, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The hourly rate was $1. The town also sold passes for those looking to use paid parking more often.
Of the 79 survey respondents – a majority of whom were business owners, as opposed to managers or employees – 54.4% were in favor of paid parking measures, according to results submitted to the town.
Board members largely agreed there was a need to increase turnover but had varying thoughts on addressing it.
“One suggestion I have is we may want to do timed parking, omit the charges and increase the penalties,” Commissioner Marianna Hollinshed suggested. “…I don’t want to kill the golden goose by putting paid parking back … we’re not out of the woods by any means on the COVID ramifications to this.”
Others seemed in favor of reinstituting the 2019 program.
“I’m not a real fan of paid parking, however, it does seem to resolve an issue and keep our businesses thriving, which is the ultimate goal,” Commissioner Sharon Harker noted.
The board and staff also discussed various adjustments that could be made, including promotions to allow an hour of free parking, adjusting the start date or altering the program mid-summer once they have more information on how the pandemic will affect businesses this year.
Mr. Day said staff will review fixed costs related to paid parking – such as paying for the meters and covering enforcement – and present that information to the board in February for further consideration.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 225; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.