NORMAN — Technology could save one of Norman’s oldest and most well-known traditions: shopping, eating and drinking on Campus Corner. Limited availability to parking has created a challenge to Corner merchants, but high-tech parking meters could provide a solution.
“There are 159 parking meters currently in the Campus Corner areas,” city engineer Anthony Lombardo told members of the Norman City Council on Wednesday at the council’s Finance Committee.
The Corner’s existing meters have been in place for at least 40 years and require patrons to put in coins to avoid getting a ticket.
New meters will take credit and debit cards, tokens and smart phone payments. Metered spaces on Boyd Street, University Boulevard, Buchanan Avenue, Asp Avenue and White Street that would be affected by the new system.
Norman’s Campus Corner, the business district just north of the University of Oklahoma campus, has almost as long a tradition as Sooner football. Known for its eclectic shops, fun eateries, evening entertainment and pubs, the Corner appeals to a wide clientele.
The Corner recently got a facelift, paid for through a special fund generated from a Tax Increment Finance District. TIF No. 1 was established in 2001 for $1.2 million to finance various public amenities for the Campus Corner area including lighting, sidewalk repair, crosswalks, landscaping, signage and other improvements. The city and other stakeholders affected by the temporary sales tax diversion — such as the public schools — had to sign off on the TIF.
The proximity to campus makes Campus Corner walkable for students and professors, but some students use the parking spaces while they are attending classes. The new meters would be more convenient for shoppers who don’t carry coins, but they could also combat the problem of student parking.
Merchants have asked that the new meters be installed by Aug. 1 before fall classes start.
Wednesday the Norman City Council’s finance committee gave direction to city staff to bring the item forward to the full council for a vote on Tuesday.
The city asked for bids for single space and multispace meters. The multispace meters are currently being used in the downtown parking lot located at Gray Street and Peters Avenue, but Corner merchants said they believe single-space meters would be more appropriate for the Campus Corner parking solution.
“Option two, the individual meter, is significantly less costly so we’re recommending that,” said city engineer Angelo Lombardo.
Those meters will cost $77,115 for the meters, $39,750 for 159 parking space sensors and $12,015 for installation, spare parts and training to total $128,880 based on a bid by IPS, Inc., Lombardo said.
The Campus Corner TIF fund has $136,639 remaining and can be used to pay for the parking meters. The TIF was closed out some time ago and improvements on the Corner completed and paid. The city has been sitting on the remaining TIF money and would like to close out that account.
Last year, city leaders asked Campus Corner merchants how they would like to use that remaining TIF money. The merchants said they wanted new parking meters.
In addition to being more customer friendly, the new meters can be programed to meet a variety of parking needs based on time of day, special events and other concerns. Campus Corner merchants would be able to validate the machines to provide a customer refund. The system is “easy to reprogram if the management strategy changes,” Lombardo said.
In other words, hourly rates could be easily changed.
The merchants also want to be able to put signs at special commercial loading zones and make those meters refuse to accept parking at certain times of the morning.
Some Campus Corner merchants would like to keep that TIF money for other uses, said Jeff Stewart of O’Connell’s Pub and Grill.
Stewart said the meters have the potential to generate revenue for the city, but council members pointed out there are maintenance and enforcement costs associated with the meters.
“This is a city fund, and council is going to make the determination on how that gets spent,” council member Tom Kovach said. “If you kill it tonight, you’re going to put it (the parking lot) off for a year.”
Council member Linda Lockett pointed out that the parking meters are for the benefit of the merchants.