BILLINGS — Put away your coin purse if you're headed to downtown Billings: Parking at any meter on the curb is free for the first two hours, ending at the close of Dec. 31, thanks to the Downtown Billings Alliance.
“We’re hoping that it’s successful and we can continue this and it becomes a regular thing for the holidays that people expect," said Mehmet Casey, development director for Downtown Billings Alliance.
Red ribbons have been placed on the downtown parking meters with a note saying the first two hours are free. The city-owned parking garages and private parking lots downtown are not included in the free parking.
Some of the ribbons were detached from their meter on Wednesday, but rest assured, the first two parking hours are still free, Casey said.
This is the first year the Downtown Billings Alliance has put on the free parking. The benefit is, hopefully, it will attract more people to shop downtown, Casey said.
"The win is the businesses and the clients. This is one less hurdle for them. If they say, 'oh, I can't find free parking downtown or I don't have money on me, or I don't want to pay for parking.' Then they don't have to," Casey said.
The Billings City Council approved the alliance to spend $30,000 from the Downtown Tax Increment Finance District to pay for the free parking, which is approximately the same amount the city would have made from the meters during the holiday season.
“The reason why we focused on the meters is because, generally speaking, the footprint of the meters is in the TIF district. So that’s how we can get the funds to put it back to the city," Casey said.
So far, the free parking has been a success, Casey said.
“When we were out and about putting bows on the meters. We caught a few people who were trying to feed the meter and we said, ‘No, it’s free, don’t worry about it.’ And they got a big smile on their face and were super excited about that," Casey said.
Downtown Billings Alliance staff are tracking the success of the free parking by listening to business owners and their experiences. If all goes well this year, the plan is to make parking free in downtown from Thanksgiving to Dec. 31 again next year.
“We’re excited about this and we’re listening to all of our businesses and clients and partners. And looking forward to what the future might hold for this. Hopefully it’s a continuous offering we’re able to give during the holiday season,” Casey said.