‘Definitely a win’: Businesses, drivers happy after Cedar Falls temporarily suspends parking fees

Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 11:13 PM CST
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KCRG) - During a special meeting Wednesday, the Cedar Falls city council unanimously voted to suspend fees in public parking lots in the downtown and College Hill areas until next April, a move that came at the behest of the local business community.

The city said the suspension would cost at least $5,000 a month in revenue, and staff said during the meeting that Cedar Falls was heavily invested in its parking program, having spent about $200,000 in studies and implementation over the last few years.

But earlier this week, Cedar Falls Community Main Street sent a letter to city leaders, encouraging them to suspend the paid parking system until July 1, 2021, and saying, “We feel that the pandemic is far from over, and the businesses are in need of this measure of support in our downtown district right now.”

The city had temporarily suspended parking fees earlier in the pandemic, an action supported by Johna Petersen, the owner of The Pump Haus Pub & Grill downtown.

“October is when they started enforcing it, and we got so much pushback from our customers,” Petersen said. “People were upset, and there’s other places you can go to park for free, so that’s where they started going.”

Petersen said parking woes have been a longstanding problem in downtown Cedar Falls, and the implementation of paid lots last year didn’t alleviate them.

The parking problem is a twofold issue downtown: Street parking is free, but there are time limits, and spots can be hard to come by, especially on Main Street.

“Sometimes the street parking, it’s hard to get in and out without avoiding an accident,” said Lauren Thome of Waterloo, who visits Cedar Falls about once a week.

On the other hand, while it’s easier to find a spot in one of the public lots off Main Street, drivers normally have to pay to park there.

Petersen said drivers who aren’t familiar with Cedar Falls’ parking policies might not know spots in the lots aren’t free.

“Obviously we need better signage. This says, ‘public parking’ back here, but it doesn’t have a dollar sign or anything to that nature,” she said.

Petersen said the loss of customers because of parking issues has become an even worse loss in recent weeks because The Pump Haus can’t serve customers at its traditionally busiest hours due to a statewide emergency proclamation.

“Now we’re closed down at 10 o’clock, so there is no late night, and a majority of our revenue comes from that,” she said.

Petersen said she doesn’t know what solution would satisfy both downtown businesses and the city, putting forward the idea of paid lot parking during daytime hours on weekdays and free lot parking on weekday nights and weekends as a possible option.

She, however, would like to see downtown get rid of paid parking for good.

“I don’t know if that’s reasonable,” Petersen said. “But for right now, due to COVID, this is definitely a win.”

In the meantime, Petersen said The Pump Haus needs more daytime customers, like Thome, who said she would prefer to keep her money out of the pay machines.

“I’d rather pay more to support a small business than not have to worry about parking or paying to park,” Thome said.

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