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Council considers free parking request due to ‘challenging’ summer for businesses

By Olivia Timm
In response to the ongoing Picton Main Street construction, Prince Edward County council will consider free parking downtown Picton to encourage patronage and assist businesses.

Mark Rose, Picton Business Improvement Association (BIA) manager, spoke to council last week about many downtown businesses who report experiencing a downturn in revenue.

“It’s been a challenging summer for Main Street Picton businesses,” Rose said. “There is a fair bit of discontent on the street amongst the businesses this summer.”

Rose said that road detours, street closures along with COVID-19 loans coming due and employment gaps are all contributing factors.

In discussions with businesses, he said the revenue downturn has varied from 20 to 60 per cent since the beginning of July and some businesses are inquiring about financial compensation to account for lost revenue during the construction project.

“We believe free parking offers assistance when they are looking for some kind of assistance,” Rose said.

Chief Administrative Officer Marcia Wallace noted an average summer month of Picton downtown parking brings in $7,200 in parking fees and roughly $3,500 in fines.

Councillor Kate MacNaughton said she would like to see some form of free parking be approved, calling the parking costs ‘a few drops in the bucket.’

“It has been challenging based on where they have the detours signs at the road. It has turned into a Main Street bypass completely, and a lot of people feel like they are being directed right away from downtown. I think their frustration is very understandable,” MacNaughton added.

For the duration of the construction project, Rose said the BIA has taken initiative to help businesses and offset the impacts of business downturn.

“We’ve ramped up social media promotion and announcements, trying to turn it into a marketing machine that all businesses remain open and accessible during construction on East Main Street. We worked with the municipality to get proper signage on detour routes, pointing to Main Street,” Rose explained.

He added the BIA set up a number of buskers and musicians throughout the remainder of the summer in an attempt to animate and activate the street to encourage activity.

The BIA is also beginning radio ads to encourage downtown shopping and dining and hopes that something like free parking will also help.

Councillor Jamie Forrester noted he has been hearing from numerous County businesses seeing a down trend this summer.

“We seem to have a lot of people still here staying at all the accommodations, but they are not spending money,” he said. “I think the conversation has to be had that we actually talk to the powers above about Sandbanks Provincial Park and start taking some of the restrictions off of visitors. Keep it on for the long weekends, but start loosening up the reservation system a little bit. It is quite difficult to use.”

Forrester shared that several people explained some individuals are using the online booking system at the park, but not using the passes.

“I would hope that is not true but I have now heard that from numerous people. There was an advantage and disadvantage of having the extra visitors we had here. Last year and the year before, it was too much. But sometimes when people cannot get into the beaches, they do come into town, they do go shopping, they do go to the restaurants. There’s a lot of places where they spend that extra money,” he said.

Lesley Lavender, executive director of The Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce, said “we can afford to be optimistic” about this summer’s tourism.

“Although we are not yet at the end of the main season, we have gathered enough statistics of visitor traffic to our office thus far to suggest that we are on course to see comparable numbers to 2019. In truth, it would be a mistake to compare this year with the previous two, bearing in mind the pandemic, the government-mandated travel embargoes, and the subsequent increase in staycations. Our website statistics also support this, demonstrating that our business directory and last-minute accommodation pages are our top two searched destinations.”

As they await a staff report, councillors in favour of approving the free parking were Stewart Bailey, Mayor Steve Ferguson, Mike Harper, John Hirsch, Kate MacNaughton, Ernie Margetson and Phil St. Jean. In opposition were councillors Andreas Bolik, Jamie Forrester, Janice Maynard, Bill McMahon, Brad Nieman and Phil Prinzen.

The discussion returns to council for consideration in September.

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  1. ayar says:

    Free parking might be something to offer at the tail end of the tourist season (though too late) but as ADJ said, who stops locals/store workers/tenants etc from parking all day? Surely better to look at a systemic change:
    1. Issue a parking permit to people with a principal residence in The County for a fee of $25 annual and tie the permit in to the licence plate. Then allow them 2 hours free parking at any parking spot in The County.
    2. Eliminate the free parking lots. If 1 above is brought in it will barely affect locals.
    3 Make parking paid 7 days a week. This is done in Niagara on the Lake, Coburg, parts of Kingston and other tourist communities. If tourists are used to paying parking elsewhere they won’t be surprised to have to pay here. It makes no sense to have the two busiest days – Saturday and Sunday – free. The County needs additional revenue to offset the increased costs brought on by massive tourism.

  2. Paul D Cole says:

    Empty store fronts these things happen in tourist towns especially when certain things happens like high gas prices and inflation, covid surely didn’t help but there was support from the Federal Government and to be honest the tourist really didn’t stop coming during covid. Construction and detours have likely had an impact but we’ve had those before too without to much damage. No the very likely causes have been seen before high gas prices and inflation and the looming possibility of a recession will send business owners in a tourist town scattering, kind of a get out while the gettins good attitude. Things like this have happened before in Picton many times.

  3. David Thomas says:

    Without knowing the details, surely it would have been better to do this road work during the height of the pandemic. While I don’t think free parking solves the problem, we need to patronize our downtown even more than normal during the construction period. True, it isn’t as convenient to do so, but actions speak louder than words. Support our local businesses!

  4. Dan says:

    Today I took a walk down main street Picton, and counted 19 empty storefronts.
    By December, if this number increases another 50% – all small business locally owned – truly this is sad.
    It would be roughly a third of storefronts vacant.

  5. Argyle says:

    Bloomfield, Wellington and Picton should ALL have paid parking, no exceptions.

  6. Dan says:

    Some estimates are the accommodation sector is down 40% in 2022. Add in downtown construction, and the new park pass policy, topped with large parking fines. The outcome was predictable.
    By introducing free parking now or loosening restrictions, is too little too late.

  7. ADJ says:

    Not in favor of the free parking idea.If it is approved whose to say the space can’t be used for an unlimited time perhaps the entire day? Try and find a park space even by 8 am. and of course many Main street businesses don’t open until 9 am.Are there direction signs to the free parking on King str. and Mary str.? They were both full yesterday anyways at 10:30 am. but I’m wondering if it’s posted or are locals using it first before the tourist get to town.
    No,…free parking clogs the system even more where as paid parking keeps the vehicle parking flow moving. I think councillor McNaughton is wrong on this and I’m surprised business owners would tolerate and agree to a vehicle taking up a space in front of their store for who knows how long.

  8. SM says:

    Paid parking brings in $7200.00 in fees and $3500.00 in fines. What are the costs of operating the system and enforcement?

    If free parking is intended to help relieve the problems caused by Main St construction and encourage tourist spending, waiting until September to “consider” it, is akin to closing the barn door after the horse is gone.

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