Locals watching meters

Staff Writer

Businesses along the 53rd Street business corridor aren’t too worried that free parking meters on Sunday will harm their businesses, but they aren’t ready to say it won’t either.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently renegotiated the City of Chicago’s contract with Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the private company that owns the parking meters. The renegotiated deal extends the hours drivers need to feed the meter from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., but allows for free parking on Sundays.

Without incentive to move their cars, drivers can park from 10 p.m. Saturday until 8 a.m. Monday. Some businesses in the city are worried that a lack of parking space turnover will dissuade customers from coming to their businesses. But business owners on 53rd Street aren’t concerned just yet.

“I hope there’s more parking to tell you the truth … the big problem [along 53rd Street] is the parking,” said John Lathrous, manager at Valois Restaurant, 1518 E. 53rd St. “There’s pros and cons to both sides of that. I see a lot of people they have to feed the meter, but on the other hand if they don’t move their cars they’re not going to move their cars and there’s still no parking.”

Because Hyde Park has a lack of parking spaces in the first place, Lathrous said, if people don’t move their cars at all on Sunday it won’t be noticeably different than the rest of the week.

Ethan Currie, manager at Hyde Park Records, 1377 E. 53rd St., said he’s hoping that free parking meters could be a boon for business.

“We have a lot of people who come in to sell used goods and parking near the door helps when you’re carrying heavy boxes,” Currie said. “So from that perspective we’re hoping it’s going to be really good.”

Ald. Will Burns (4th) voted in favor of the renegotiated deal.

“I looked at the $20 million a year in savings to the City of Chicago and to the taxpayers of the City of Chicago. I looked at how you can now use your smartphone to pay your meter and I looked at the fact that, OK, you make a deal that was really bad slightly better by giving people at least one day back where they don’t have to put quarters in the meter and the likelihood was that Chicago Parking Meters wouldn’t make any money on the deal,” Burns said.

He said that he would consider putting parking meters back to “only those parts [of the ward] where there’s a lot of commercial activity and there’s been a problem with parking spaces not turning over on Sundays” if businesses in the ward suffered as a result.

“If I introduce an ordinance to return metered parking to that area in the ward, the revenue from those meters goes to the City of Chicago. It does not go to the Chicago Parking Meters and it probably won’t be that much revenue anyway but the idea is, the idea behind that is the businesses are suffering, people are having trouble getting to the businesses and this is a way to make sure we keep our commercial corridor viable,” Burns said.