A new evening downtown-parking plan is taking heat from the restaurant industry.

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A new evening downtown-parking plan is taking heat from the restaurant industry.

A business plan for the Winnipeg Parking Authority was endorsed unanimously by Mayor Brian Bowman and his executive policy committee at Wednesday's meeting.

The plan allows for patrons of the downtown to park for free from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. but only for two hours. After two hours, motorists will be required to move their vehicles or be ticketed. The plan could be implemented as early as January.

But the manager at Rudy's Eat and Drink on Graham Avenue balked at the parking changes.

"My initial thought is that it will directly affect our business. I think in this effort to encourage people to come downtown and to revitalize downtown, I think this is kind of going adverse to that (process)," said Jon Miranda.

"People coming to see a show and going to see a Jets game -- those are longer than two hours. What about those folks? They'd have to leave the show or leave the game (to move their car).

"This is going to be a hindrance. It might hurt the business in the sense that people might not come before (an event) for a meal."

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, was also critical of the parking changes.

"When you have a restaurant downtown you realize there's going to be some parking challenges. You've kind of accepted that," Jocelyn said. "Though I applaud the intention to get more people downtown... I could give you an argument of how it's going to make it more difficult for a restaurant."

Having restaurant employees move their cars repeatedly during night shifts to avoid tickets, or having customers avoid downtown altogether in favour of restaurants in the suburbs with free parking, are among the worries the downtown restaurant owners are discussing, Jocelyn said.

Bowman said he hopes the parking plan will encourage more people who go downtown for events to choose surface parking lots or parkades, freeing up space on the street for motorists who don't want to stay downtown as long.

Stefano Grande, the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, agreed the proposed plan could be a boon for downtown, with small businesses profiting from more parking turnover in their surrounding area. "The reality is the jobs are downtown, and the reality is we need to find a way to accommodate everyone. I think the days of an employee or even a business owner having a parking spot right in front of their business... they're gone," Grande said.

Grande said the majority of downtown business members he has spoken with would rather see paid meter parking continue later into the evening, as opposed to two hours of free parking.

"If there's one thing that's going to discourage people from coming downtown it's an aggressive enforcement policy," he said. "We surveyed close to 60 of our business members in this area, and 60 per cent of members told us they're not sure if heavy ticketing is going to work and/or they prefer the pricing approach to creating that turnover."

After the EPC meeting, Bowman told the media the business community endorses the measure because they are currently not getting the turnover they need to maximize business.

"The two-hour time limit is intended to encourage turnover, so if you want to go to a downtown restaurant, you have two hours and then move and we get more people downtown," Bowman said.

The new rules will apply to most of downtown -- from Kennedy to Garry streets and from Portage Avenue to Broadway, including a two-block area extending north to Ellice Avenue directly opposite the MTS Centre.

Originally, the WPA plan called for patrons to also start paying for parking after 5:30 p.m., but Bowman said the current amendment allowing it to be free will be "appreciated by a lot of Winnipeggers."

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca