Starting in the fall, drivers will have to pay to park on certain streets in downtown Kent.
Instead of parking meters, the city will use a system of parking pay stations in which a pay station governs multiple parking spaces on a single street.
"We're definitely not using parking meters," Kent City Engineer Jim Bowling said.
Traditional parking meters typically are placed one meter for every on-street parking space, but Kent is planning for pay stations that will manage multiple spaces per street similar to a system in place in Charlotte, NC.
Pay stations allow drivers to pay with credit cards or cash (Kent is considering accepting Kent State University's FLASHCard). Drivers would identify their parking space at the station — spaces will be numbered or identified at the curb — and receive a receipt showing the time paid for at which space. The receipt would not have to be displayed.
Bowling said early plans call for one pay station to be located mid-block on both sides of a street. The pay station would manage all parking spaces on that side of the street within the particular city block.
"There will be free public parking downtown ... at all times," Bowling said. "The purpose of the paid parking on-street ... is to make sure the spaces turn over."
Streets where parking spaces will be managed by the new pay system are: South DePeyster Street, from Haymaker Parkway to Main Street; Erie Street, the full length; Water Street, from Haymaker Parkway to Columbus Street; and Main Street, from DePeyster Street to Franklin Avenue.
The new system may or may not incorporate the parking spaces on the Main Street Bridge, but plans call for the stations to manage 262 of the 1,100 spaces that will be available downtown when the parking garage and new courthouse lot open.
Bowling said city officials and downtown business and property owners are in the process of determining exactly what options they want the new pay stations to have — such as accepting FLASHCards or using solar power. Once those options are set, the city will put the project out to bid and hire a firm to provide and install the new parking pay stations.
The pay station parking project has a $750,000 budget, and that covers the entire process from purchase to installation. City officials estimate as many as two dozen of the parking pay stations will be installed.
The new pay stations could be in place as early as September. Rates are likely to be $0.25 per half hour with a two-hour limit.
Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, said downtown business owners see the goal of the new parking pay stations to manage quick turn-over of the parking spaces directly in front of retail shops.
"This will allow for someone to run into one or more shops, spend their money locally, and then give up that prime spot for the next potential shopper," Wemhoff said. "This way, more convenient parking is made available for the short-time visitor or shopper, versus the space being used by an all-day employee of a store or restaurant."
The parking pay stations will not charge for spaces 24/7. The on-street parking will be free during certain evening and weekend hours. That free time period is not yet set in stone, but stations will likely operate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Bowling said adjustments will be made to the new parking system as downtown redevelopment projects finish and data show where and for how long drivers are using the paid system.
The new on-street parking pay stations are not connected to PARTA's Kent Central Gateway transit center, which is expected to open this spring with 300-plus public parking spaces.
"I truly believe when the parking deck is open and operating, the parking situation in downtown Kent will improve tremendously," Wemhoff said. "We just need to make sure that what is being communicated is correct regarding that there will be free parking, and indicating the locations."