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Park Free Thursdays Needs Tweeks To Succeed

by Dave Zornow

Store owners Patti Aagaard and Marie Somos will speak to the Village Board this Thursday about an initiative to encourage more shopping in Nyack. Ms. Somos and Ms. Aagaard should be applauded for their efforts to ease these tough economic times for merchants and shoppers alike.

But Nyack’s property owners are facing their own set of challenges, too. Taxes increased 9.4% for the current fiscal year to make up for declining mortgage registration fees during the economic downturn. Parking revenues are an important component of the village budget and any cuts to this source of funding needs to be made up elsewhere.

Park Free Thursdays needs a little polishing before it’s ready for primetime. The community, as a stakeholder being asked to underwrite this initiative, needs to know what it will cost and how it will help increase local commerce before it is adopted.

  1. What’s the *real* cost: Village Comptroller John Cincotta estimated that about $400 in parking revenue will be forfeited when a Friday night version of this plan was suggested earlier this year. But those estimates were based on average parking revenue in February and March. Given that these months were unusually cold this year, it’s unlikely that this figure represents parking revenue in July and August. Better numbers lead to smarter decisions.
  2. What’s the marketing plan? There are only two ways for store owners to make more money: get current customers to spend more or increase the number of new customers. We have to assume that Park Free Thursdays is about bringing more people to the village. Unless Nyack’s donation of parking revenue is accompanied by a marketing plan to get the word out, it is a waste of money.
  3. The parking problem: The January 2007 independent parking study concluded that parking isn’t overly expensive (it’s still cheaper to park than to buy a Starbucks latte) and there are an adequate number of spots. The “parking problem” is a perception issue, but that doesn’t make it any less real. If a handful of people grab the best spots at the beginning of the Park Free Thursdays with no incentive to relinquish those spots, how will that help the perception that we don’t have enough parking in Nyack? The study also revealed that store employees are part of the problem. They monopolize many of the prime spots on the streets for their entire shifts. Merchants and their employees need to promise to be part of the solution and not a contributor to the problem.

Despite these concerns, it’s a good idea worthy of community discussion. Here are a few ideas about how Park Free Thursdays can be tweaked to benefit both Village Hall and village merchants.

  • Marketing: The July 19th Street Fair is an inexpensive way to tell thousands of infrequent Nyack visitors about Park Free Thursdays. Banner, signs and flyers can help spread the word.
  • Share the cost, share the risk: Taxpayers and merchants alike need to share the pain and the gain of Park Free Thursdays. Merchants — who have the most to gain by bringing more foot traffic to Nyack on Thursdays — should split the cost of Park Free Thursdays with the village. Our merchants know a smart investment when they see one. If they aren’t willing to put up any money to make this succeed, that tells us a lot about how wise an idea this might be.
  • Accountability: Turning the meters off on Thursdays between 6p and 9p also turns off any accountability. Leave the meters running and the ticket givers in place — but give shoppers one hour of free parking. Print date specific free parking vouchers to distribute to shop owners. All unused vouchers are returned the next day; shop keepers pay 50% of the cost for all of the vouchers they use. Alternatively, volunteers from the business community can look for cars as they park, offer them a voucher and give them promotional material on participating stores and restaurants.

All of this sounds like a lot of work. But helping Nyack’s businesses survive these lean times is certainly something worth the effort.

Dave Zornow is co-publisher of NyackNewsAndViews

See also:  Nyack Merchants Need Free Parking NightParking

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