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City mulling privatization of downtown parking

By Staff
PARKING TICKETS n Tickets are a common occurrence in downtown Meridian as business people, residents and visitors struggle with a limited number of timed, on-street, parking spots. City leaders say they are considering hiring a private company to manage downtown parking. Photo illustration by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
July 17, 2001
In hopes of alleviating parking problems that have plagued Meridian for decades, city leaders said Monday they are considering hiring a private company to manage downtown parking.
Mayor John Robert Smith was out of town on private business and unavailable for comment.
Storms said a private company could maintain several parking lots in strategic locations downtown and then bus people to one of several stops. He said the company could make money by charging monthly parking fees.
Storms said the private company also could manage on-street parking.
City panel governs parking
The Downtown Parking Committee currently decides how long motorists can park in spots on downtown streets. Panel members include city officials from various departments; the committee meets by request from downtown property owners.
Representatives of some downtown businesses said they didn't feel comfortable talking about the possibility the city may hire an outside company to manage parking. Everyone agreed, though, that parking is a major problem.
Trustmark Bank President Bubba Hampton, whose office is on 23rd Avenue, said his company provides parking slots for most of its employees. Hampton said any proposal that would open more spaces for customers would be welcome.
Currently, city leaders are talking with several companies about building a possible $7 million, 500-car parking garage downtown. The proposed garage would be built using urban renewal revenue bonds.
Garage won't solve all problems
City leaders have said the proposed garage would offer some relief for motorists. But Storms said the garage would "absolutely not" solve the city's parking dilemma.
The garage primarily would serve students and visitors at The Riley Education and Performing Arts Center. The garage would open sometime in 2003, in time for the completion of renovations to The Grand Opera House.
Storms said that ongoing revitalization projects such as The Grand Opera House could cause a downtown population boom the city has not seen in years. He said the boom would offer an opportunity for businesses to make money through parking.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3226, or e-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.