Galena considers variety of options to curb downtown parking problems

GALENA, Ill. — Galena will maintain its outdoor dining program for the remainder of the summer as officials examine possible solutions to the city’s ongoing parking problem.

After hearing from 15 citizens at this week’s City Council meeting, council members voted unanimously to direct city staff to research downtown parking options, including a shuttle service and the installation of smart kiosks at which drivers would pay for parking.

Mayor Terry Renner said the city already is pursuing a shuttle service and also might consider seeking the input of a parking consultant. He reminded the more than 40 residents who attended the meeting that such initiatives “take time.”

“It’s something we’re not ignoring, but we don’t have a quick fix for you,” he said.

City Clerk Mary Beth Hyde said Tuesday that the city is working on obtaining a shuttle service. Although the council’s directive for the city to research parking options did not include a timeline, she anticipates staff soon will bring a proposal for the shuttle project before the council.

The council did not reconsider the city’s outdoor dining initiative, which prohibits parking or vehicle traffic in the 100 block, 200 block and part of the 300 block of North Main Street so restaurants can offer outdoor dining. The closure, in place through October, eliminates about 100 parking spaces.

Galena resident Tom Kramer spoke at this week’s meeting on behalf of a group of citizens who had compiled several potential solutions to the problem. He questioned if the value of outdoor dining has run its course.

“Last year, when they closed off the street, I was all for it because the businesses were hurting and us residents, we don’t want to see that,” he said. “This year, the pandemic’s winding down, and that’s 100 parking spaces. … Maybe something to take into consideration.”

However, multiple business owners from both the restaurant and retail industries spoke positively about outdoor dining. They asked the city to address the parking issue without eliminating it.

Paul Pendola, the owner of Galena Spoon Co., 201 Hill St., said his business has seen a continual increase in customers all year, and particularly since the outdoor dining began.

“In May, the jump (in customers) was so significant after the street closures, I had to hire two employees,” he said. “… It’s been nothing but positive, and customers have shared the same experience.”

Monique Bonnetain, co-owner of Bread & Vine Bakery, 217 S. Main St., suggested the city increase the cost for restaurants to offer outdoor dining and use those fees to fund long-term parking solutions. Currently, restaurants must pay a $150 permit fee for outdoor seating. Bonnetain proposed a fee of $1,000.

“I don’t want to speak for any of the other businesses, but I think it’s something that could be considered,” she said. “… I would ask that we consider a way to work out this parking situation and continue to have outdoor dining as an option.”

Other potential solutions shared by citizens at the meeting included stricter regulations on Airbnbs, construction of a parking ramp or remote parking options outside the city and the creation of a parking permit or paid parking.

Hyde said the city currently has three paid parking lots at a rate of $10 per day. All other on-street downtown parking is free, generally with a three-hour limit.

Council Member Jerry Westemeier said the city’s geography is partially to blame for the difficulty in constructing parking options such as a ramp.

“We’re between a hill and a river. We can’t just tear people’s buildings down to create a parking space,” he said.

He added that the city previously attempted shuttle programs, which were unsuccessful, but he hopes the current initiative will be effective.

Council Member Robert Hahn asked whether the city could erect clearer signage directing drivers to remote parking locations. Renner agreed.

Citizens urged the council to find solutions benefiting both tourists and residents, while acknowledging that the city is economically dependent on visitors.

“I do think the city needs to seriously put some dollars and some thinking behind this,” said Alana Turner, co-owner of Poopsie’s and Spotsie’s on Main Street. “But let’s be honest, the dollars in this town do come from tourism, so what the customer wants, we should find a way to make it happen.”