Chinatown businesses, councilor push to keep free 2-hour parking pilot program

Business owners in Calgary’s Chinatown and the area’s councilor are pushing for the Calgary Parking Authority (CPA) to keep free two-hour parking at a city-run lot indefinitely.

Last year, a pilot partnership between the city, CPA and Chinatown Business Improvement Area (CBIA) introduced free two-hour parking to CPA Lot 888 at 109 Riverfront Avenue SE

The pilot was set to expire on Feb. 28, but the CPA tells CTV News it has temporarily extended the program to allow stakeholders to study the results of the pilot.

The owner of Exige Medi Spa in the Broadview Center building says the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn had turned Chinatown into a ghost town, but the advent of free parking allowed her business to see more traffic.

“Because it’s free, that parking space (lot 888) is coming alive, and we are getting so many new people coming down to visit,” said Amanda Diep, who is also a doctor of traditional Chinese Medicine.

“We’ve got people from Airdrie, from Cardston.”

The city brought in the short-stay parking pilot in September 2021 to help boost visits to the area, which suffered in early 2020 from a discriminatory avoidance of Chinatown.

Business say they continued to struggle with subsequent rounds of closures and public health restrictions amid the global pandemic.

Leaders with the CBIA have posted signs on the pay station advising people to share their feedback with the city.

“Mom and pop shops, small businesses, they need this to survive,” said CBIA Executive Director Brian Wong.

“We know when people come out they will have a peace of mind to stay here, not just for one location for a meal, but for other retail purposes.”

Wong later added, “Chinatown is a portal not only for itself, but its a portal to other communities downtown.”

Diep is collecting signatures for a petition, and says she’s collected 50 as of Wednesday.

She says she would see a continued uptick in clientele if the program is extended.

“Come on down, we look forward to serving you,” Diep said. “We look forward to seeing you, and fingers crossed the city is going to support us with parking.”

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong says that he met with the CPA last week and the city transportation manager on Wednesday to review the pilot and discuss the parking strategy.

Wong said vibrancy in the downtown core should also extend to Chinatown as a unique destination.

“The businesses here, they want business patterns here (from) eight o’clock in the morning to 11 o’clock at night. So yes, you can fill up the buildings here, but if the people in the office buildings go home at five o’clock, how do you fill the void?” said Wong.

“We need to make (parking) affordable, we need to make it available.”

The Calgary Parking Authority says requests for parking pilot programs can go through the ward offices or 311.

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