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City pitches new parking garage and extended free parking to aid downtown London, Ont.’s recovery

“There really is no such thing as free parking— real life is not a monopoly game,” asserted Climate Action London’s Mary Ann Hodge.

Hodge opposed a recommendation by city staff to extend a free parking promotional offer into next year.

She explained that Londoners are picking up the financial tab for the program, and bear the environmental costs, “We really need to be reducing our use of fossil fuels and encouraging other modes of transportation.”

A new report to the Civic Works Committee recommends several parking initiatives in the core area:

  • Extend CORE code for free parking to Q1 of 2024
  • Restart 185 Queens Ave parking garage and building process
  • Allow bulk discounted reserve parking in municipal lots
  • Undertake new Downtown Parking Strategy

Since early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Honk Mobile Parking App has offered two hours of free municipal parking in London’s core area business districts by using the promo code CORE.

The staff report stated, “This timeframe will provide additional time for economic recovery to the spring of 2024 and allow much of the major construction to be completed in the Core Area.”

Real estate professional George Georgopolous from RE/MAX International believes the promotion is important to the economic recovery of core businesses.

“It’s a great incentive,” said Georgopolous. “I think the two hours allows people to get in and do what they want. Without that they’re gonna go to the suburbs.”

Councillor Skylar Franke rejected the extension of the free parking promotion.

“I actually tried to put a motion together last week to stop that [promo code] because I don’t think we should be subsidizing parking when we’re in a climate emergency,” Franke explained.

According to the report, the CORE code for free parking was used 200,000 times in 2022, a total discount cost of about $1 million.

Specifically, $50,000 (25 cents per transaction) was paid by the city to Honk Mobile and the remaining costs are an estimate related to parking revenue that wasn’t realized.

Hodge isn’t convinced that the popularity of the promo code translated into additional visitations to core business districts, “It isn’t clear how many of those 200,000 uses were actually people who wouldn’t have come downtown in the first place.”

In their report, city staff also recommended restarting the search for a developer to build a public parking garage and residential building (with affordable units) on a municipal lot at 185 Queens Ave. just west of Clarence.

Municipal parking lot at 185 Queens Ave. where a public parking garage may be constructed in London, Ont., as seen on June 7, 2023. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)

The initial RFP process was halted in 2020 as civic administration focussed on pandemic initiatives.

The amount of additional parking created near the centre of downtown would depend on the proposals received from developers.

“We absolutely need more parking downtown,” said Georgopolous. “Ever since the Covent Garden Market building transformed, [that was] 1,100 spaces that were gone.

Franke wants to learn more about the parking garage proposal, but thinks it isn’t the municipality’s responsibility to supply parking for private businesses and property owners.

“If you own a piece of property downtown and you want parking, people will either have to pay for it, or you’ll have to buy a parking lot and offer that to your clients,” she said.

The report on potential Core Area Parking Initiatives will be considered by the Civic Works Committee on June 13. Top Stories

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