NORMAN — “Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty” — Petula Clark could have been describing Norman’s Downtown renaissance in her famous 1964 rendition of Tony Hatch’s song, “Downtown.”
With the 2nd Friday Artwalk and new restaurants and clubs opening almost weekly, Norman’s revitalized downtown has become an entertainment destination by night. During daylight hours, quaint boutiques and specialty shops like Massive Downtown, Anty Shanty and Sage draw an eclectic mix of shoppers.
All of those people need a place to park, and the Downtowners Association took steps to provide that parking through the enlarged lot on Gray Street. New, multi-space smart meters now keep those spots open for customers.
“The Downtowners are very happy right now,” Norman Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.
Prior to the introduction of the meters, many employees of those area businesses parked in the free parking spaces, even though other spaces were available at a slight distance. However, the small, hourly fee imposed by the new meters was enough to send employees down the road to park.
Before the multi-space smart meters were installed, the lot remained about 90 percent full. Now the occupancy rate is less than 40 percent. The project is considered a success because the goal of creating available parking has been achieved, but parking meter revenue at the Downtown lot has run below projections.
The success of the metering system has resulted in a green light for a second phase in the downtown lot — dedicated, long-term parking. Those 26, long-term, permitted parking spaces could generate another $15,000 in annual revenues.
The smart meters were funded by the Downtowners Association through an interest-free loan from Republic Bank. The proceeds from the meters will pay off the loan and could provide income to contribute toward paying for parking enforcement personnel.