|A no-longer-enforced parking meter in west Dearborn.|
Downtown business owners are hoping that just as the gates have been lifted in the structures, the “doors” to the growth and revitalization of the area will also open.
Paid parking came to Dearborn eight years ago after garages were built in connection with development projects that never materialized. The downtown plunged into despair over the past few years, with dozens of businesses shutting down and leaving deserted stores in their wake. Despite the outcries of vendors complaining that paid parking is driving away customers, the city maintained that it was an advantage to west side business owners, who do not have to pay for maintaining their parking lots, unlike their counterparts in other parts of the city.
But last November, the city council finally voted to do away with paid parking.
"We want to remove perceived obstacles to investment and inspire former and new customers to take a look at the district," Mayor Jack O'Reilly said of getting rid of paid parking during his State of the City Address last month.
Maria Vogwill, the owner of Beauty Mark Salon, said paid parking discouraged customers from frequenting west side businesses.
"It was not necessarily the money that kept customers away, but the inconvenience," she said. "Customers sometimes do not have quarters for the meters and they don't want to be on the edge because the meter might run out."
She added that eliminating the fees will help get Dearborn back where it needs to be.
"I've lived in Dearborn my entire life, and paid parking here is the stupidest thing I've heard," Alison Lorentz, a client at the salon, said while her hair was being washed.
She said that she avoided some businesses that she likes in the area because of this issue.
Lorentz added that the business district will take time to recover from the effects of paid parking because people who are already avoiding the area might not know that parking fees have been removed.
"Paid parking was fast to wreck businesses, but eliminating it will be slow to rebuild," added Lorentz, who described herself as a sixth generation Dearbornite.
Vogwill said doing away with paid parking will at least save her and her partner $100 a month on their own parking fees, from coming to work every day.
Josh Barker, the manager of Moose's Martini Pub, said the elimination of paid parking will bring more customers and businesses to the area.
"We haven't felt the impact of free parking, yet, because people don't know," he added. "The city needs to spread the word."
Not all paid parking have been eliminated, however. Structures and lots have become free, but meters on side streets are still enforced. A source in the police department told The Arab American News that the fees are persisting there because these spots are considered "luxury parking" due to their proximity to businesses.
Patrick Lynch, the owner of Lynch's Inc. clothing store, said he is "very happy" to see free parking back in west Dearborn.
"What were they thinking when they put paid parking here?" he asked. "It had a major effect on business. Eight years ago, this was a vibrant area and you didn't have all these vacancies."
Lynch added that he hopes doing away with paid parking will help with revitalizing the area, but said it could be too late because people might have already made up their minds about not coming to west Dearborn.
A business owner in west Dearborn, who wished to remain anonymous, said it is already too late.
"They killed Dearborn," she said in a frustrated tone. "More than 90 percent of the people stopped coming here. They all went to Allen Park. Nobody wants to come here anymore. It's about time they got rid of paid parking."
Real estate agent Sam Baydoun, who brokered the sale of Kirnan's Steakhouse, an iconic west Dearborn restaurant that closed last year, said eliminating paid parking will help revive the commercial downtown market.
"Besides the economic aspects, paid parking was a barrier to recovery," he said. "Getting rid of it will help. It is a great move in the right direction for the future."