By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
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.
Parking space vehicle sensors have not arrived yet, but those sensors may help generate more income. When a car leaves, the meter will reset. The sensors also provide notification to parking enforcement when cars are parking without paying. The sensors are expected to be delivered in August.
Also to be added are tokens and smart cards that could make payment even easier, allow for rewards by businesses to customers or employees and generate more income from the meters.
Right now, the meters accept coins, credit and debit cards and smart phone payments. Customers inside a boutique or restaurant can renew their metered payments by smart phone without the need to return to their cars. To use the system, they must register by calling 1-888-MPARK-GO (1-888-672-7546). Users have the option of receiving payment reminders alerting them to parking location and expiration time.
The current hours of enforcement at the downtown lot are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the city may expand those hours if enforcement can be provided.