Under pressure from small businesses and their local aldermen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is finally ready to deliver—10 months late–on his promise to restore paid Sunday parking to neighborhood commercial strips that have suffered from the lack of parking turnover.
At the April City Council meeting, Emanuel plans to introduce an ordinance that incorporates the demands of at least three aldermen–Scott Waguespack (32nd), Tom Tunney (44th) and John Arena (45th)–determined to reverse the Sunday freebie in neighborhoods like Lakeview, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Lincoln Park and Portage Park.
“We believe the vast majority of Chicagoans are pleased with free Sunday parking in neighborhoods that the mayor was able to provide with the renegotiated parking agreement. But we understand that three out of 50 aldermen prefer to restore paid Sundays in certain areas where the businesses/residents support it,” the mayor’s office said in an emailed statement.
Mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey was asked why it took nearly 10 months to honor the promise made to aldermen on the day they went along with Emanuel’s plan to renegotiate the widely despised parking meter deal.
“The original parking meter deal was hastily reviewed and adopted, and its impact is well-known. We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the past and are taking a short but reasonable amount of time to properly evaluate the operational impact on residents of restoring paid Sunday parking in these specific areas,” he said.
With the Cubs April 4 home opener fast approaching, the mayor’s ordinance won’t come soon enough for Tunney, whose ward includes Wrigley Field. He’s has been pressuring the mayor’s office for months, to no avail.
“There’s a certain bias against the whole meter deal to begin with. There’s a feeling of, `At least we got free Sundays.’ But, it’s a shortsighted viewpoint because meters were there to encourage turnover. Instead, they park there from Saturday night until Monday morning,” Tunney said Tuesday.
“We were the first ward to put in [paid] Sunday parking outside the Central Business District. We felt we needed turnover on our first- or second-busiest day of the week for retail activity. Turnover is important for a steady stream of customers. I also have a unique situation around Wrigley Field. I don’t think we should have free parking around the ballpark.”
Waguespack said he wrote letters to the mayor’s office in July and again in January spelling out the streets in Wicker Park, Bucktown, Lakeview, Lincoln Park and a small portion of East Village where he wants paid parking to be restored on Sundays.
Both letters were ignored.
“They said, `We’ll work with you guys.’ They asked us for information. We gave it to them twice, and they still didn’t do it. They were stringing us along. Because they cut the deal for free Sundays, it was almost as if they went so far out on a plank, they couldn’t go back,” Waguespack said.
“They never spoke to chambers [of commerce] and small businesses that they ended up hurting. They should have sat down with them and asked, `How is free Sunday going to help or hurt you?’ This rush to get the deal done without talking to the actors most affected [was wrong]. They’re finally getting heat from businesses that they deserve.”
The Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce even went so far as to issue an emailed “call to action” to its members in an attempt to force the mayor’s hand, according to communications director Padraic Swanton.
“It’s about business turnover. The same car could park from 9 p.m. on Saturday all the way until Monday morning. During that time, customers at local businesses are finding it challenging to find an open parking space,” Swanton said.
“Some businesses have reported a 10 percent loss of revenue on Sundays. Many restaurants point to Sunday being their third-busiest day. And while they offer valet parking, people aren’t looking to pay for valet parking on Sunday.”
When the City Council approved the mayor’s plan to trade a longer parking day for free neighborhood parking on Sundays, it was with the understanding that individual aldermen would be allowed to opt out.
“Some don’t want free Sundays. A lot of people do want free Sundays,” the mayor said on that day.
In fact, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s floor leader, promised the change would be made within weeks and said his own ward would likely be one of those returning to paid Sundays.
“If you don’t want a free Sunday, each of us as individual aldermen has the ability to say I want this portion of my ward to go back to a paying Sunday,” O’Connor told his colleagues during floor debate that relived the nightmare of the parking meter debacle.
“Now, when that change is made, as opposed to pointing to the city or to someone down at City Hall and saying it’s their fault, now that decision will rest on us, and maybe some folks aren’t comfortable making that determination.”
On Tuesday, O’Connor could not be reached to explain why he changed his mind about the idea of restoring paid Sunday parking.