Waterfront Park is a 85-acre park in downtown Louisville. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Metro Council Democratic Caucus and mayor’s office have said they do not support a proposal to charge anywhere from $3 to $5 for parking at Waterfront Park parking lots.

Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, said her phone was “jumping off the hook” before 7:30 a.m. after news broke that paid parking may soon become a reality at Waterfront Park.

Her constituents “think they are targeting certain people, and they’re not going to allow for it,” she said at the caucus meeting Thursday. “They are ready for a fight. Five dollars is too much, and our kids don’t have the money to pay.”

The Waterfront Development Corp. board of directors, which oversees the management of the park and will ultimately decided if and how much to charge for parking, will consider a proposal on Aug. 23 that would allow the WDC to start charging for parking Wednesdays through Sundays. Parking would continue to be free on Mondays and Tuesdays.

If approved, the board also would vote on whether to charge $3, $4 or $5 for three hours of parking at a Waterfront Park parking lot. The charge is to help the WDC cover a budget shortfall caused by a lack of state funding that it previously received.

“This is the best (solution) we could come up with,” said Oliver Barber, a WDC board member. “It’s not something I want to do.”

The WDC already charges $3 for three hours of parking in its green lot at North Preston Street and River Road because of problems with downtown workers using it for free daily parking.

“The core of this problem is that the state is no longer a partner in Waterfront Park,” said Bill Hollander, D-9. “They clearly have a need. I don’t think the best way to meet that need is to charge parking at a public park in part because any public park, and frankly, particularly this one, it is I think one of the most diverse places in Louisville. Anyone who goes to that park will see people immediately for whom $3 a day will be a tremendous imposition, and so I just don’t think it’s something we should do.”

Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, questioned whether the WDC should be audited to search for efficiencies or if Waterfront Park could be brought under Metro Parks and Recreation rather than operating as a separate entity.

By charging for parking, “we are forcing people to spend more money to use a park that belongs to them,” he said.

A representative from the mayor’s office told the Democratic Caucus that Mayor Greg Fischer shared their concerns and would pass those on to the WDC board.

Council President David Yates, D-25, sits on the WDC board and said he was not in favor of paid parking but credited the board with trying to find creative ways to fill its budget shortfall.

“I think that the parks are a great asset,” Yates told Insider in a phone interview today. “I would not be for charging for regular attendance. …We want to make sure we keep it up and keep it safe, but I am hoping you aren’t going to have to balance that budget on the backs of the folks who need it most.”

The WDC had a $210,000 budget shortfall last fiscal year after the state again decided not to allocate funding to the park. Louisville Metro Council stepped up to cover the budget hole, but WDC will have another budget gap this fiscal year — and its board has been looking for ways cover that in the future.

The WDC board started weighing instituting paid parking and, at the behest of the mayor, looked at only charging for event parking.

“They tried every scenario they could come up with, and everything came so confusing to the public,” said David Karem, president of the WDC, adding that the park hosts 150 events a year. “On a daily basis, would people have to be going out to change signs around to communicate to the public?”

When asked to respond to the negative reaction charging for parking has already received, Karem said it was an unfair question to ask him and that it should be directed at WDC board members.

“If you come downtown and on public streets you choose to park, you pay a meter and the taxpayers have paid for these streets. To park you pay for the meter, check out: what does three hours on a downtown meter cost? Someone might argue, not David Karem, what is the difference on a public-paid-for street, where you pay for parking at a meter?” Karem said. “One might say to those people, what is the difference in that than charging to park at Waterfront Park?”

It costs $1.75 an hour to park at city parking meters.

In response to the criticism, Barber told Insider that Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government is welcome to chip in more money to the park’s operations. It currently covers 40 percent of WDC’s budget.

“All they have to do is increase their allocation to us. If they don’t like it, they can fix it,” he said, later stating: “I invite anybody, and everybody whose got a better solution to come forward with it. I am looking for one too, but I don’t have it.”

Yates told Insider that he and other council members are willing to work with the WDC to find ways they can partner in the future budgets and to continue to search for ways to find new revenue, but this year’s budget is already set.

“Lately, there’s been an uptick in the need for public safety funding, and that’s where the majority of our money is going,” he said. “I don’t see a major mid-year adjustment.”

Barber added that there is a potential positive to come out of the talks about paid parking.

“I think it gets people thinking about the park and financing the park and maintaining its wonderful veneer.”

Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]


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