Downtown businesses and city leaders address parking issues

Helena Business Improvement District
Posted at 6:13 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 20:13:13-05

HELENA — What comes to mind when you are contemplating a trip downtown? Probably parking or lack thereof and it is an issue employers, customers, and residents all agree needs to be addressed.

The owner of Sunflower Salon, Anita Mehus, said, "It's confusing, it's inconvenient, and it's very expensive."

She was one of 20 business owners and city leaders who attended the Helena Business Improvement District round table.

"That really goes for every business downtown. It is a strain to have to pay even $60 if you have five employees a month. The margin of business is so tight," she said.

Other business owners expressed concern about their employees and customers getting ticketed or the parking kiosks not working correctly.

Mehus says she has contacted the city of Helena's Parking Department but has had little response.

"It's like they're tone deaf to really listening. The long game in this it's going to hurt downtown businesses. It's going to hurt people coming downtown, and that's what makes a city unique is their downtown," said Mehus.

After the round table

Parking manager for the city of Helena, Tim Nickerson, said, "I think the biggest thing that people want is to be heard, and you really got [to] Not only hear them but listen to them. And I think it's important that we do that moving forward."

Tim Nickerson has been working for Helena Parking for over 20 years —seven of those spent as the parking manager.

80% of Helena City's parking revenue comes from parking permits.

Those are permits people can purchase for monthly or yearly parking downtown.

The remaining 20% comes from sources like hourly parking and parking tickets.

That money is used to pay the department's nine employees, who do everything from administrative duties to snow and ice removal and cleaning up after other people.

Nickerson said, "The clean up not so nice matters in the stairwells that people may tuck into or hang out in for the night."

Recently, the department's revenue does not cover the day-to-day costs.

Nickerson said his department is projected to run an $80,000 deficit this fiscal year.

He said he thinks one issue is people don't know parking permits are an option.

"We need to try to get a little more education out to the public about what we do have available. Some of our part-time employee permits and some of the discounted rates that we do currently have in place as far as location," said Nickerson.

The rates are listed on the city's website under the parking department's page.

While no decisions were made, future meetings will be held to discuss parking downtown. You can find information about them here.