There’s more than enough parking in downtown Brainerd, but it isn’t managed well, the city’s parking commission says.

Higher parking lot fees, parking meters and targeted education efforts, though, could help solve the problem. Those suggestions were among the eight recommendations parking commission members brought to the Brainerd City Council during a workshop Monday, Oct. 25.

Formed last December and tasked with developing recommendations to resolve parking-related concerns downtown, commission members have talked with business owners, gathered community input and studied parking costs and availability.

RELATED: Brainerd to establish downtown parking commission to address concerns

“We worked really hard on this,” Commission Chair Kevin Yeager said during a phone interview Tuesday, Oct. 26. “This was not a commission that just got together and drew a bunch of ideas and said, ‘OK, let’s try this.’ We engaged the public. We did actual studies. We talked to neighboring towns. We had city staff look into programs, equipment, so forth. This was a very robust process to come up with these eight steps.”

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Recommendation 1 — increased lot fees

The city leases four parking lots downtown:

  • The Burlington Northern lot off Front Street behind the old Crow Wing Food Co-op,

  • The alley along the north side of Shep’s on 6th and El Potro’s,

  • The city hall lot on Laurel Street adjacent to Brainerd City Hall, and

  • The Maple Street lot between the Brainerd Public Library and the Brainerd Post Office.

The Burlington Northern lot annually operates at a deficit and is ultimately subsidized by the other three. While raising just the rates of the Burlington lot would cover its cost, the parking commission believes raising all the rates would put them closer to what the private sector may charge for parking.

RELATED: Downtown Brainerd parking in spotlight as council talks maintaining fewer lots

Right now, parking spots in the Burlington Northern lot cost $20 or $25 a month, depending on location, while the Maple Street lot costs $15 and other two cost $35. The parking commission proposed raising the rates to $45 and $55 for the Burlington Northern lot, $25 for the Maple Street lot and $50 for the other two, along with a yearly 5% increase to keep up with inflation and ensure the parking lot fund is self-sufficient.

Revenue changes for the price increases would be as follows:

  • Burlington Northern lot — increase from an annual deficit of $15,732 to a net gain of $2,734.

  • Alley — increase from $5,239 to $11,652 in revenue.

  • City hall — increase from $3,394 to $4,996 in revenue.

  • Maple Street — increase from $8,095 to $14,983 in revenue.

Recommendation 2 — parking meters

Parking meters are suggested between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Laurel Street between South SIxth and South Eighth streets and on South Seventh Street between Front and Maple streets. The first 15 minutes — or perhaps more — would be free, with drivers incurring costs for the additional time.

One of the primary issues parking commission members reviewed is the balance of allowing enough on-street parking time for business patrons to shop, eat and enjoy the downtown area while keeping commercial and residential tenants from monopolizing the prime parking areas.

RELATED: Perceived downtown parking problems spark mild debate: At issue is tenant and employee parking

While much of the on-street parking downtown is already limited to two hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the week, enforcement is difficult and costly, with the police department — which is already understaffed — having to devote valuable time to monitoring parked vehicles. Parking tickets are often appealed as well, Yeager said, which creates another cost for the city. Meters, on the other hand, would take away the need for constant monitoring, as technology allows for users to operate them with a smartphone app, which could virtually issue citations. Understanding not everyone in Brainerd wants to deal with the technological component of meters, the commission’s recommendation would also allow for some coin-operated ones. And those who don’t want to pay for parking could still use other downtown streets.

The cost to implement meters is estimated at $80,000-$120,000 plus monthly operating fees that would be paid for by meter revenue.

Recommendation 3 — economic development

With extra money coming in from lot fees and parking meters, were those recommendations to be implemented, the commission proposed 90% of the revenue after expenses go to the Economic Development Authority to be used for downtown programs and improvements.

These funds would allow for continued economic vitality downtown through grants, beautification, marketing, etc., without raising taxes.

The remaining 10% would stay in the city’s parking lot fund to ensure a sufficient balance to cover any unanticipated costs, like large snowfalls or damage to the lots or meters.

Parking in downtown Brainerd has been a subject of numerous studies in the past. Laurel Street in downtown Brainerd about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 2021. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
Parking in downtown Brainerd has been a subject of numerous studies in the past. Laurel Street in downtown Brainerd about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12, 2021. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Recommendation 4 — updated kiosks

Updating downtown kiosks, the parking commission believes, would help to implement wayfinding and around the downtown area to guide visitors and residents alike to the various amenities like parking locations, distances to specific places, maps of businesses and general community information.

Recommendation 5 — updated ordinances

With one of the key problems commission members identified being business owners and downtown tenants taking up parking spots for visitors, they recommended updating the city’s ordinances to require property owners (both commercial and residential) in and around downtown to identify off-street parking for their tenants. Residential property owners would be required to provide 1.25 off-street parking spaces per unit.

The city is currently working to rewrite its zoning code, which could incorporate such a change.

Recommendation 6 — lot redevelopment

If the first five recommendations were to be implemented successfully, the parking commission suggests looking into the redevelopment of the Burlington Northern parking lot and the lots at city hall and on Laurel Street. The EDA would be tasked with coming up with a marketing strategy for the redevelopment.

The commission believes the cost of maintaining those lots will become higher than their value as parking lots and could generate more tax revenue for the city through other uses. For example, a building with an estimated market value of $1 million would have a projected tax capacity of $19,250, potentially reducing the city’s property tax levy.

Certain building projects could include their own off-street parking so that removing the lots does not create an extra parking burden.

Recommendation 7 — pedestrian improvements

Parking woes could also be alleviated, the commission believes, by taking steps to ensure downtown is as pedestrian friendly as possible through means such as alley lighting, additional benches and bike racks, picnic tables, designated bike lanes and green spaces. These items could be funded with the money from the parking lot fund designated to the EDA under recommendation No. 3.

Recommendation 8 — education

With so many new initiatives, education would be key. A targeted informational campaign would aim to inform property owners, business owners, residents and patrons of the recommendations — if any — the council chooses to implement to ensure a smooth transition.

“There’s a lot of work dealing with the public. We understand that,” Yeager said. “And like a lot of things, when it’s new and different, the first reaction is it’s not right. And we understand that, and we’re looking forward to public involvement with these next steps.

Next steps

The recommendations from the commission are just that — recommendations. It is now up to city council members to decide if they want to implement any.

City Council President Kelly Bevans, who was initially against creating a commission just for parking, said during a phone interview Tuesday he was impressed with the work these commission members did and the recommendations brought forward.

If the goal is to better control of downtown parking or make it more usable, Bevans said the recommendations are eight really good places to start. If the question is whether there’s a parking problem downtown, he said many people may say there’s not.

“As a council we have to decide what we’re trying to accomplish and what’s the best way to get there,” Bevans said. “In implementing these eight is there something we’re missing? Is there some we don’t really want to do? That’s where the next couple weeks come in.”

The council’s personnel and finance committee is expected to discuss the financial aspects of the recommendations next month. While the parking commission suggested an implementation timeline of Jan. 1 for any recommendations the city council decides to move forward with, Bevans said April 1 would be more likely, as he would also like the council to host a public hearing to get more community input.

Yeager understands these recommendations are not an end-all, be-all to parking concerns and likely will not garner support from everyone, but he believes the plan as a whole has pieces that take everyone into account.

And the education piece is going to be crucial.

“Our hope is that through public awareness as well as that whole education piece, we can get some people who are believers in what we’re doing and can see the long-term benefits versus the short-term encumbrances,” Yeager said.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.