Medford's ever-evolving parking rules are set for another change on Sept. 1 that some merchants say will hurt their business.
Tina DeAvilla, owner of Attitudes hair salon, said she's worried the changes to the Middleford parking garage on Sixth Street, including an upcoming remodel, will discourage customers and potentially make it more difficult for her nine employees to find a space.
"It's so full sometimes right now that my clients can't get a parking space," said DeAvilla, whose business sits inside the Middleford garage. "It's really going to impact my business."
Lynette O'Neal, assistant to Medford's deputy city manager, said the city believes the changes will ultimately make parking downtown easier.
Decreasing the time limit from three hours to two was driven by merchant concerns that there wasn't sufficient turnover in the garage.
She said the time changes were not motivated by Lithia's need for more parking spaces to accommodate its new headquarters in The Commons.
O'Neal said that the new two-hour limit will mean more people can park downtown, which should translate into increased activity for merchants.
Once the two-hour limit is reached, motorists can pay 50 cents for the third and fourth hours, then $1 for every additional hour.
Merchants will be able validate parking passes for their customers, paying 25 cents for the third and fourth hours and 50 cents for each hour after that.
The city will also sell 20 more parking permits inside the garage and another 20 on the roof.
Merchants worry that selling more permits will cause more problems.
O'Neal said that many people with parking permits don't actually use their space all the time, so the city feels comfortable with the idea.
Merchants say it's been more difficult lately for motorists — particularly seniors — to negotiate the construction on Sixth Street for The Commons.
Adroit Construction of Ashland is getting ready to remodel the Middleford garage and create a pedestrian pathway that will provide a better connection to Bartlett Street.
Some merchants are concerned that construction could make it more difficult for customers to access the garage.
O'Neal said the city is working with Adroit to ensure the garage remains open during the various phases of remodeling.
"We are going to do everything we can to make sure it is not inconvenient to people," she said.
The city will remain flexible and try to avoid giving tickets during the construction, such as allowing permit holders in the garage to park on the streets, O'Neal said.
Once the work is completed, the city expects to lose some 10 to 20 spaces for the passageway out of about 400 spaces in the garage, she said.
O'Neal said the Medford Public Works Department installed new signs to explain the new rules in the garage a little too early, which has confused merchants and motorists this week.
The parking situation could evolve even more in the next five years if more construction takes place in The Commons, which alarms the owner of Attitudes.
"When the whole Commons is done, and 950 more parking spaces are needed, I might as well close my business," said DeAvilla.
She moved her business to the downtown three years ago when it was easy to find parking in the garage.
"For the first year, it was great, and it's gone downhill since then," DeAvilla said.
She said the two-hour limit will put a crimp in her business because some appointments last as long as five hours.
The new parking machines in the garage are not well liked by many of her older customers, DeAvilla said.
A supporter of The Commons, she said it will be a boost for the downtown, but she hopes that the city finds a way to resolve the parking issues so as not to hurt small businesses.
An additional pressure on parking could come from the retail space available at the bottom of the Lithia headquarters. No businesses are yet in those store fronts.
Other merchants are bracing for the changes, which will be more pronounced once Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University begin the fall term.
"The change to two hours is going to be hard," said Susan Fichtner, owner of My Daughter's Closet on Main Street. "Overselling the parking permits is a bigger problem."
She said the problems aren't too severe during the summer months, but once school starts parking will be at a premium.
Terry Walker, a 63-year-old Medford resident, said, "I'm old and old-fashioned, and I won't pay to park in the downtown."
Walker, who got his hair styled at Attitudes Thursday, said it's ridiculous for the city to provide only two hours of free parking because "you can't do much in two hours."
Walker, who still uses old-fashioned Brylcreem in his hair, said time limits, parking machines and parking tickets will chase business away from downtown.
"People don't have to pay at the mall," he said. "Guess where they're going to shop."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.