Joliet again eyes parking innovations in 2023

Latest study on downtown parking system recently completed

A Public Parking sign can be seen along Chicago Street in Joliet, Ill.

Joliet has a new analysis of its downtown parking system, but one City Council member already has a suggestion: Let parking deck customers charge it.

An analysis with recommendation for improvements is in the hands of city staff, which will review suggestions for downtown parking improvements in 2023.

Councilman Pat Mudron said whatever action the city takes, it should start by giving parking deck customers another option than paying in cash.

The ticket dispenser warns customers entering the Ottawa Street parking deck that it's a cash-only payment system.

Mudron said he’s heard from downtown business people that their customers are looking for an option other than cash when they visit for business and maybe stay for lunch, piling up parking time that may exceed the cash they have in their wallets in a society that using cash less and credit cards more.

“They might be in the deck for a period of time that they don’t have that much cash on them, and we’re not taking a credit card,” Mudron said Friday.

The Ottawa Street parking deck only charges $1 an hour. Still, Mudron noted, once the bill gets past $1, many people aren’t carrying the cash to cover it anymore.

The city has been moving toward more credit card options in downtown parking. Street parking in the downtown area now can be paid with cash or credit at kiosks, although other sections of downtown still have coin-operated meters.

Councilman Pat Mudron discusses tabling a vote on liquor licenses on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Joliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill. The Joliet City Council discussed an amendment to allow for liquor consumption and video gambling at gas stations.

Mudron raised the cash-only issue at the last City Council meeting on Dec. 20.

City Manager James Capparelli said credit options and other matters will be taken up as staff reviews a new analysis of the city’s parking system.

A draft of that parking study done by national consulting firm, WGI is now in hand, Public Works Director Greg Ruddy said this week.

“The purpose of the study is to look at all the parking operations and systems and make recommendations moving forward,” Ruddy said.

City staff is likely to come to the City Council with recommendations from the study sometime in the first quarter of 2023, Ruddy said.

“Ultimately, any changes would have to be reviewed and approved by the City Council,” he said.

This isn’t the first study done on the downtown parking system. The city previously considered privatizing downtown parking, which is not an option under review in the current study, Ruddy said.

The city, however, did sell one of its two downtown parking decks – the Scott Street deck – to downtown developer John Bays in 2021. Bays wanted the deck to provide parking for tenants at his downtown buildings, and the city faced an estimated $915,000 in repairs on the deck.

The Scott Street parking deck on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Joliet, Ill. The Joliet Economic Development Committee met to consider the sale of city-owned Scott Street parking deck to developer John Bays and Bays Investment Corp.

Mudron said the city should accommodate other downtown businesses by developing a system by which they can validate parking so their customers don’t have to pay when they use the city’s Ottawa Street deck.

“Businesses could encourage individuals to park in the deck, and they’d validate their receipt,” Mudron said.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk at times has suggested the city get rid of pay parking altogether and make it free, but he’s never developed a proposal to make it happen.

City officials have said paid parking at least prevents downtown employees from hogging street spots all day long and opens them up for customers and other downtown visitors.

Joliet has removed parking meters like these from a one-block section of Van Buren Street downtown where an electronic parking kiosk has been installed.

The city’s parking system, however, is not a revenue generator.

Assistant Finance Director James Ghedotte pointed to the downtown parking system as one of the city’s financial issues when presenting plans for the 2023 budget, which includes a $765,000 deficit in the parking fund.

“I would suggest that we’re going to have to deliberate on the parking fund,” Ghedotte said in November.

It appears that the city will do that in more ways than one.