Shoppers get gift of more free parking

OLYMPIA - Holiday shoppers and downtown businesses are getting a special treat from the city starting today - 70 stalls of free, two-hour parking.

The city is opening the new lot today at its property on State Avenue between Adams and Franklin streets. A two-hour time limit will be enforced from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On evenings and weekends, there’s no time limit. The lot can be accessed from Franklin Street.

“It’s there, it’s available, and … we’re happy to be able to provide it for the holiday season,” said Jay Burney, the city’s assistant director of Public Works.

He said the lot cost less than $10,000. “There was some existing striping that was already there, and we just refreshed it and added a few more” spaces, he said. The city also fenced the lot.

The city acquired the lot from the state Department of Transportation last year, planning to clean it up and develop it with some combination of parking and housing. Cleanup work has taken place, but the lot sits empty.

The future of the parking lot after the holidays is unclear. But Burney said there is no end date for the free parking. The city is going to study how the lot is used.

The Olympia City Council has considered adding municipal parking in downtown for years. In the past several years, it has focused its efforts on building a municipal parking garage. But this month, the council tabled the idea, saying the bad economy which has made financing a garage difficult. Instead, the city manager is charged with developing a plan next year to add 200 surface parking spots.

Mathias Eichler, who owns einmaleins, a European products store just north of the site, was hopeful the lot’s high-profile location would lure customers who wouldn’t normally stop downtown.

Downtown doesn’t have a parking shortage, he said; rather it has a perception of a parking problem. People don’t like to parallel park.

“Basically what we need is three things,” he said. “We need a dedicated location that we can direct customers to. We need proper signage all the way from the freeway. Lastly, he supports parking lots that people pay for by the hour, so they’re not rushed.

Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, praised the new parking.

“I think that’s going to be really a cool thing and I think very beneficial,” she said.