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Limited parking in downtown La Grange worries restaurant owners

Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013 12:07 a.m. CST
Caption
(Matthew Piechalak)
A vehicle exits the parking garage in downtown La Grange on Thursday, June 6, 2013. Business owners and village officials have recently been discussing potential solutions to parking congestion downtown. Matthew Piechalak – mpiechalak@shawmedia.com

LA GRANGE – With summer attracting visitors to downtown La Grange, several restaurant owners are worried that lines of customers waiting to eat will be matched by lines of cars searching and searching for parking.

But their bigger problem might be getting through to fellow business owners.

This summer, the village will increase enforcement of parking restrictions as a response to a few business owners who fear that limited parking in the booming downtown will scare off visitors.

Spaces designated for those with Central Business District stickers, previously enforced until about 4 p.m., will be monitored until about 8 p.m. in downtown’s busiest section – between Ashland and Sixth avenues from Cossit Avenue to the railroad tracks, the village said.

The change comes several weeks after Michael LaPidus, owner of Q BBQ, organized a meeting attended by village officials and representatives from about five downtown restaurants to weigh potential parking solutions.

“Parking is a problem in downtown La Grange, and the deck helped, but the village stopped at the deck,” LaPidus said by phone. “They didn’t do any more long-term planning.”

Before any big changes, the village wants businesses to instruct their employees to park in the designated Central Business District spaces or in lots on the edge of downtown. Bella Bacinos manager Chloe Scott, who attended the meeting, said she has noticed business owners park in prime street spots that the village estimates are worth $60,000-$70,000 a year to businesses.

“The biggest problem is that not all the restaurateurs are on the same page and aren’t putting in the effort,” Scott said.

Restaurant owners used to meet regularly to discuss issues such as parking, but have stopped, said Scott, who was disappointed that only a handful of owners attended LaPidus’ meeting.

Every Friday and Saturday, Bella Bacinos hears complaints about the shortage of parking downtown, Scott said. To free up prime spaces, Scott tells her workers to park on the top of the parking structure behind Village Hall. When those spaces fill up, they look for parking in surface lots where their stickers apply.

LaPidus said he has workers who have to leave during their shifts to move their cars from 3-hour parking spots. He calls the current parking situation a “crisis” and wants a new parking structure on the west side of La Grange Road, a big request considering the controversy over the building of the 368-space, $8 million structure behind Village Hall in 2005.

In the short term, LaPidus proposed that the village waive the $20 per month fee that employees of downtown businesses pay to park in them.

“When you’re making $8.50 an hour, $20 a month is a lot to pay to park at your job,” he said.

That move would cost the village $75,000 a year, said Patrick Benjamin, the village’s community development director. He said employees should park along Burlington Avenue or in other surrounding lots instead of taking up spaces outside of businesses.

“That’s money that’s being lost,” Benjamin said. “[Business owners] are stealing money from each other. At least when you know it’s going to be busy, let’s make a little effort.”

LaPidus said it’s unrealistic for his workers to park on Burlington Avenue.

“Female [employees] aren’t going to [want to] walk three blocks to their car,” he said. “And it’s just human nature to want to park closer.”

LaPidus splits costs for a valet service for patrons on Thursday to Saturday evenings with three other businesses – Prasino, Francesca’s Bellezza and the La Grange Theatre – and he asked other owners to consider joining. He said it would cost each owner $150 a month if 20 businesses partnered to offer the service for the three busiest nights of the week.

He also proposed allowing valet parking in the lot at Cossitt Avenue School. The school previously has opposed that option.

Before the village considers a new parking structure or other big changes, Benjamin wants business owners to do their part in freeing up spaces for customers.

“I’m a firm believer that we need to manage the supply that we have first,” Benjamin said. “And if we try everything and that doesn’t work, we can have those conversations.”

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