The Burlington City Council earlier this month voted to relieve the new owners of the Burlington Town Center mall, as the Free Press reported, "of a longstanding provision that grants motorists two free hours of garage parking."
In the meantime, having to pay for mall parking will only reinforce the image that shoppers visiting downtown Burlington have a difficult time finding parking — meaning free parking. That image poses a challenge especially for retailers that face direct suburban competition, as well as for restaurants and other businesses.
The council's blessing to end free parking at the mall bestows upon the city, as well as the Church Street Marketplace Commission, the obligation to help offset any potential obstacles downtown merchants might face with this loss of this amenity.
In December, Devonwood Investors of New York in partnership with Mountain Development Corp. based in New Jersey closed on the purchase of the Burlington Town Center from General Growth Properties.
In asking for the release, mall co-owner Don Sinex told council members that the garage needed to generate more revenue to cover the cost of long-deferred maintenance and repairs — totaling as much as $7.5 million.
The area centered on the Church Street Marketplace is already at a decided disadvantage when it comes to how people see parking availability.
Much of downtown parking is hidden within multistory structures or on side streets, or offer the challenge of parallel parking. Drivers usually must check into a garage or put money in meters.
By contrast, the open lots that surround shopping centers such as the University Mall in South Burlington and the national discount chains in Williston give the impression of plentiful and convenient parking. And they're free.
Giving up two hour of free parking at the mall is sure to add to the frustration of shoppers trying to find a place to leave their cars downtown.
A revamped mall will likely become a stronger draw for shoppers, but until that happens, the city should help downtown businesses solve the parking riddle.