Paid Parking Proposed for Milwaukee’s Major Parks

Citizens can speak about planned parking meters at Tuesday meeting

Visitors to Milwaukee County’s most popular parks may soon pay up to $2 an hour or more for parking, starting as soon as May 1. That’s 50 cents higher than the top rate for City of Milwaukee meters.

County administrators currently propose to charge parking fees in up to 70 county parks, including along Lincoln Memorial Drive and in Lakefront parks. Locations deemed “viable” for paid parking include ones that attract visitors beyond a neighborhood or offer appealing amenities. The list (click “18-98 REVISED REPORT (01/16/18)) includes Brown Deer, Estabrook, Humboldt, Lake, Mitchell and Whitnall parks.

Citizens can learn more about the proposal at a public meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 6) at 6 p.m. at the Mitchell Park Domes Annex, 534 S. Layton Blvd, in Milwaukee. A county staffer said the program, hosted by the County Executive Chris Abele’s office and the Parks Department, will include a presentation by Teig Whaley-Smith, director of administrative services about several potential approaches for collecting parking fees.

The approved 2018 budget anticipates $1.7 million in net revenue from parking fees. An amendment introduced by the County Board mandated that any contract for paid parking must be approved by the board. None of the vendors that recently responded to a request for information proposed a specific revenue split. However, based on other Milwaukee County contracts, an operator might conceivably pay the County a 10 percent to 15 percent cut of gross revenue. (A corporate vendor would need to recoup their investment and make a profit.)

The County’s “Pay-to-Park Work Group” is reviewing vendor information and potential operating models. The committee includes several county staffers, Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson; Joe Bartolotta and Keith Trafton of Bartolotta Restaurant Group (which manages several establishments in parks); Jeff Sherman, co-founder of the news website; and Dawn St. George, the new executive director of Park People, a nonprofit organization whose board recently prohibited most advocacy relating to parks.  Scott Fisher, owner of Gift of Wings in Veterans Park, reportedly will join the committee. Although the budget amendment calls for representatives of “Park advocacy groups” to serve on a paid-parking committee, none have thus far been appointed.

Paid parking in parks is part of a larger plan by the Abele administration to shift  funding of parks to “earned revenue streams,” which now fund more than 50 percent of the parks budget. Earned revenue includes rentals, permits, fees, concessions, sponsorships and fines, and is expected to rise to 62 percent in 2018, more the double the national median. The parks’ $35-million operating budget is $5 million less this year than it was in 2018.  The tax levy had previously been the main source of funding parks since the system was originally created in Milwaukee in the 1890s. Milwaukee Magazine published an in-depth analysis of Milwaukee County Parks in July 2017.

Although county officials often talk about efficiencies, paid parking would require a massive effort and outlay by citizens to reach the county’s goal of $1.7 million annually. In an alternate scenario, to raise an additional $2 million in revenue for the parks budget, the tax levy would need to increase less than $3 a year for a property assessed at $100,000.