‘My fellow council members don’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with Jumbo and Dumbo.’
— Councilman Douglas Thomas, in reference to the west downtown parking decks
By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — City voters will get a second go-round to choose whether or not to keep paid parking in the city’s west end, Councilman Doug Thomas said Monday.
“Paid parking has not worked, it does not work and if the council won’t put (a paid-parking ban proposal) on the ballot, we’ll petition again,” said Thomas, who along with businessman Tony Fera led a successful 2006 petition drive for a ballot proposal to ban paid parking that eventually was defeated by voters.
In a blistering criticism of the system, Thomas said the city needs to admit it made a mistake by pushing for paid parking in the first place. As the district struggles with the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression and increased competition from new developments in Allen Park, paid parking is threatening to make downtown west Dearborn a ghost town, he said.
“Everyone has seen the ‘for lease’ signs up and down Michigan Avenue,” Thomas said later in an interview. “If we don’t get rid of this backward system, you can bet on seeing a lot more of those.”
Thomas isn’t alone in his disdain for paid parking. Double Olive owner Joe Agius frequently has stated he would support a return to a special assessment tax to maintain the city owned lots if it meant customers no longer would be ticketed for overtime parking. Agius, who also spoke at the meeting, questioned what would happen if a change isn’t instituted soon.
“I get customers tell me all the time they won’t come back because of paid parking,” said Agius. “Nights where we used to do $3,000, we’re doing $1,000 now. I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this.”
Still, going back to a special assessment could prove a difficult sell to other business owners because of the roughly $14 million debt owed on two city-built parking decks. The decks, which were built primarily to support the unfinished West Village Commons development, would take what was once a $500 monthly payment in Agius’ case and increase it to several thousand dollars, he said.
But Agius doesn’t think he should have to pay for the decks. His customers don’t use them because they’re more than a block away, and a pending breach-of-contract lawsuit seeking to recover the costs of the decks proves that even city officials acknowledge the decks were a mistake, he said.
“Why am I being punished for someone else’s mistake?” Agius asked.
In the end, though, whether or not the issue makes the ballot could depend on Thomas. Having developed a reputation as somewhat of a firebrand, he doesn’t think his fellow council members will support the measure.
“My fellow council members don’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with Jumbo and Dumbo,” said Thomas in a reference to the decks.
“Everyone recognizes that paid parking has not worked, yet no one wants to do anything,” He said. “It’s Sleepy Hollow, Michigan. It’s Rip Van Winkle sleeping under a tree.
“There is zero progress, and it’s, ‘Let’s do business like we did last year.’”