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Parking at The Pier to rise by a dollar

In 1988, the City Council decided it was too soon, too harsh, to levy even a $1 charge for parking at The Pier.

This week, city administrators notified the council they will raise the parking fee from a buck to $2.

Mayor David Fischer said the increase was fair, especially given the city's continuing annual subsidies of The Pier.

"The subsidy just doesn't seem to be making any progress," Fischer said. "We can't seem to improve it. We talked about it and felt that one extra dollar is worth $200,000 to the subsidy." This year, the city is expected to pay about $1.15-million to help The Pier break even.

City officials actually experimented with the dollar increase during 1993 special events, such as the Fourth of July celebration and the Festival of States, said city Downtown Facilities director Bob Leighton.

"We've had no resistance," Leighton said. "We're always looking to raise new revenues. It's a reasonable charge, especially when parking is getting to be such a premium."

The Pier's two lots _ the Pelican and the Dolphin _ can hold a total of 548 cars. There also are 76 free spaces along the approach to The Pier, 12 handicapped spaces around the building, and valet parking at the building. In recent months, valet parking was made free to customers at The Pier's two major restaurants.

The permanent new rates go into effect March 14. City residents also can purchase yearly parking passes for the two Pier lots for $15, Leighton said.

The new parking fees should bring in an additional $200,000 in revenues, said Pier manager Bill Griffith. With the current $1 charge, The Pier collects about $300,000 in parking revenues, but only about $80,000 of that is profit. The new charges will not create new expenses, so the two parking lots should net about $280,000 annually under the new fee system, Griffith said.

That money will offset the city subsidy and will pay for building needs, such as improved bathrooms, and increased costs, Griffith said.

"The Pier is also very tough maintenance-wise," Fischer said. Just during the past week, high winds caused $10,000 damage to the facility, Fischer said. "It's very costly."

At least five years ago, city officials came to terms with subsidies for The Pier. They acknowledged at that time that the city likely always would pay some subsidy for the facility. Originally, the city's 10-year contract with Bay Plaza, which manages The Pier, called for taxpayer subsidies to stop in 1993.

"That was before they realized that this is basically like operating a park," said Griffith. "It costs a lot more than they thought."

Despite predictions about a poor tourist season, visits to The Pier were down only slightly in February from the year earlier. In 1994, 182,000 people visited the facility, compared to 188,000 a year before, Griffith said.

The city began charging a parking fee in December 1989. A year earlier the City Council had refused to charge for the spaces, saying that it was too soon after a $12-million renovation of the facility and would not be fair. The Pier reopened after the massive overhaul in August 1988.