Dauphin County commissioners on Wednesday approved a resolution to help pay for free street parking in downtown Harrisburg after 5 p.m., a deal designed to revive happy-hour business in the capital city.
Under an agreement with the city and the Harrisburg Downtown Improvement District, the county will help pick up the tab for downtown parking meters, which require drivers to pay until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The city and the Downtown Improvement District have already signed off on the deal, which lasts for one year. The city approved the payment structure last week after a February vote was postponed.
With the county approval, the parking system’s operator must now determine when the free evening hours will begin.
Drivers were asked to pay for on-street parking between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. as part of the capital city’s debt-recovery plan in late 2013, under which Harrisburg gave up control of its parking system. The debt deal also pushed up the cost to park on streets in downtown Harrisburg, with the rate jumping in early 2014 from $1.50 per hour to $3 per hour. Saturday hours also were added.
Harrisburg bars, restaurants and other businesses have long complained that charging for parking between 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. has cut into their after-work customer traffic. More people push back evening plans until after 7 p.m. or they skip downtown altogether in the evening and Saturdays to avoid paying the meters.
Last year, those two hours brought in about $270,000 for the parking system, which is run by SP Municipal Services.
For the next 12 months, the $270,000 will be covered by contributions from the county, the city and the Downtown Improvement District, or DID. Dauphin will use a portion of the county hotel tax to pay $110,000. Harrisburg will pay another $110,000 and the DID will contribute $50,000.
“We believe the benefits of bringing more visitors downtown are worth the cost,” said county Commissioner Jeff Haste, the board’s chairman.