BANGOR, Maine — The bid to privatize parking enforcement in Bangor’s downtown took a step forward Tuesday night as a committee recommended the city use vehicle-mounted cameras to ensure people aren’t overstaying their welcome in downtown parking spots.
The system uses a “mobile license plate recognition system,” a pair of cameras mounted to a vehicle, to read and record license plates of vehicles parked curbside. A computer program would use this information to handle citations and track data and payments.
This privatization of parking enforcement would result in one full-time worker replacing the three part-time workers who currently walk the streets — a fourth parking enforcement position is vacant.
Parke Clemens, manager of Republic Parking, the company that made the proposal, said during a Bangor Business and Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday night that the data would not be linked to police databases, such as those that indicate whether a vehicle is stolen or a driver has an expired license. He said records of the plate information recorded over the course of the day would deleted.
Republic Parking says this new system is 25 times more effective than the on-foot method.
The council considered a similar proposal two years ago, but decided against it, mostly because the equipment was about $50,000 more expensive at the time.
Jason Bird, business development officer and downtown coordinator for the city, said the city’s current enforcement system, which is run by the police department, is increasingly expensive. The tire-chalking system also is easy to cheat by running out to rub the chalk away before parking enforcement comes by again.
The city is receiving more complaints from business owners who say their customers have nowhere to park because employees of downtown businesses are parking downtown rather than in the parking garage or on the district’s outskirts, Bird said.
Councilor David Nealley voted against the proposal, arguing that such a change in parking enforcement might drive business people with downtown offices to different parts of the city. He also said that the city’s trio of parking enforcement officers were “part of the downtown fabric” and were useful liaisons between the downtown and police.
“I just think that this isn’t really an area where driving efficiencies is in the downtown’s best interests,” Nealley said.
“Times have changed and so have the circumstances,” Councilor Patricia Blanchette countered, pointing out that the downtown now has a walking patrol beat officer.
In other business, the city has a draft of a request seeking suitors for long-vacant and undeveloped commercial space on the street level of Pickering Square Parking Garage, but is waiting to court potential developers until the city decides the future of the Community Connector bus depot at the square, according to Tanya Pereira, economic development specialist for the city.
The 7,300-square-feet of unfinished space is adjacent to the Community Connector bus waiting area. City staff say a restaurant or shop at the property would “add to the ‘critical mass’ of retail in the area,” according to the city’s request for a proposals document.
If the bus depot were to move, that likely would alter developers’ feelings about the site.
The garage was completed in 1989 and expanded a decade later, but several past requests for proposals failed to result in successful development deals.
The request states that the public transit system serves 1 million riders per year, and about 73 percent of those riders use the central station at the parking garage, though councilors have discussed the potential of moving the Community Connector depot in recent months.
The Business and Economic Development Committee supported the draft and agreed that the city should hold back on pursuing development deals for the site until the future of the bus depot is decided.
The committee also gave Seasons Grille and Sports Lounge the go-ahead to set up tables near the sidewalk at the Main Street Venue. The outside eating area will draw attention to the business, which has entrances on the opposite end of the building, away from Main Street, according to Tom Workman, food and beverage manager for the restaurant. Having diners eating out in open air in public view will make it more obvious that Seasons is a restaurant and “fun place to be,” especially for people visiting the city for Waterfront Concerts, Workman said.