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Borough, Merchants Discuss Garage Promotions

Candace Braun

Promoting the Borough's soon-to-be completed parking garage on Spring Street was the focus of discussion at the Community-Based Neighborhood Retail Initiative meeting on Thursday, February 12. The group is associated with the community organization Princeton Future.

Topics discussed included how to promote the Smart Card parking system, and finding ways to incorporate local businesses into the new garage and parking meter system.

"We want to reach out to all the stores and all the businesses," said Robert Bruschi, Borough administrator.

Teri McIntire of Maya Marketing was announced as the Borough's new marketing consultant to promote the new parking system. Former director of marketing for Palmer Square Management, she will be advising the Borough on ways in which to get visitors to start coming back into town after parking was limited during construction. This will be done namely by encouraging the use of the new 500-space garage.

Some of the Borough's promotions include adding signs in town to let drivers know where the new garage is located, distributing maps of the downtown shopping area, and creating a video to explain how the Smart Card works, which will be distributed to community organizations, according to Mr. Bruschi.

The video will also be shown on Princeton's local access cable channel.

"We just want that first experience [with the garage] to be positive," said Ms. McIntire. "We don't want to make it any more confusing for residents."

The Borough's Park-and-Shop garage is set to open April 1. Promotional materials and information about how to purchase a Smart Card will be distributed to the community in mid-March, said Mr. Bruschi.

To attract residents to the new library, which is also expected to open in April, the Princeton Public Library intends to offer two hours free parking at the garage for their visitors, said Leslie Burger, library director.

Residents who park in the new garage may get their parking validated at a machine which will be located inside the library. The Borough will receive the difference in funds through a payment from the library.

The library intends to have an "honor system," presuming only library users will take advantage of the parking validation. However, Ms. Burger said she expects to monitor the volume of incoming patrons to gauge if anyone is taking advantage of the system.

Offering incentives such as giving parking credit for every $100 customers spend in downtown shops was also an option discussed by retail merchants.

The possibility of this would depend on whether store owners would be willing to compensate for the lost money by paying the Borough the parking credit amount. Some merchants voiced a desire to offer this as an incentive to get more patrons in their stores.

Other ideas explored included only selling the Smart Cards inside Borough stores the week of the garage opening, and selling Smart Cards on a regular basis in stores through a system similar to store gift cards.

"[The merchants] will get traffic and they want to get involved [with the new parking system]," said Sheldon Sturges, co-president of Princeton Future.

Managing Costs

Mr. Bruschi said that many of the ideas discussed were possible, but that it will be difficult to put some in place before the garage opens in less than two months. He also said that, because of cost, initially Smart Card machines will only be available in Borough Hall and the new garage.

"The initial cost of [the machines] is staggering," said Mr. Bruschi.

Smart Card machines will be walk-up machines in which users may insert increments of $10, $20, $35 and $50 to be credited to their card. The card can then be used for parking in the garage or at downtown meters.

All 1,200 downtown parking meters are being made Smart Card accessible. Patrons may still use coins in the meters, as well.

"There will be so much value and convenience to [the Smart Card]," said Ms. McIntire.

Once the garage opens, meter feeding will be monitored much more closely in the Borough, said Mr. Bruschi. This is because the Borough wants to encourage use of the garage for long-term parking.

In addition, short-term parking will be rewarded by not charging a fee to patrons who park for less than 30 minutes.

Bikers will also have the convenience of parking their bikes inside the garage, as racks to hold 50 bicycles will be placed inside. If it appears that more bike racks are needed, the Borough will order more, said Wendy Benchley, a Borough Council member.

Merchants will also receive direction as to where to park once the garage opens, said Mr. Bruschi. Since the new garage will be reserved for community use, the Merwick lot will be a permit lot for downtown employees, in particular those at the library.

Downtown merchants will also receive a guide as to where they are able to park, said Ms. McIntire. A "Value Pass," which was instituted over two years ago, allows both merchants and consumers to park in the Chambers Street and Hulfish North garages at a discounted price. Consumers receive a 30 percent discount when purchasing the card, while merchants receive a 50 percent discount.

These passes are available to purchase at the garages, said Ms. McIntire.

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