Free parking in Smiths Falls; street meters to be removed in coming weeks

With the Phase One, $8 million revitalization of Beckwith Street now complete, downtown Smiths Falls is open once again.

Now, council has voted to remove parking meters on side streets to make the experience even more worth it.

"I think we are the only town in the region that didn’t have some free parking as part of the downtown core," said Amy Rensby, owner of C’Est Tout Bakery and an advocate of free parking.

"So it kind of puts us more on a level playing field, especially as business owners with our neighbouring communities."

The south-end of Beckwith Street reopened at the end of October, with new parallel parking spots and a bike lane, along with free two-hour parking.

Mayor Shawn Pankow said removing the meters on side streets wasn’t in the plan, but feels it makes it better for everyone downtown.

"Initially it was the expectation that we would continue with some form of payment for downtown,  which would have been pay and display meters,"

"In the end we heard from business owners, we looked at all the options, we heard from our citizens and we wanted to make sure we had an inviting and inclusive downtown as possible," Pankow said.

"With the revitalization, allowing for free parking is sort of that cherry on top."

While he admitted there would likely be a loss of revenue, the mayor says it’s worth it.

"(Revenue) paid for metres in the past. It goes into our reserve to pay for meters for the future; it also pays for our enforcement. So there may be a net negative impact to taxpayers where we will have to subsidize any fine revenue that we have – that's a trade off where you try and create an economic benefit for the entire downtown," Pankow said.

"We want to make sure we are competitive, we want to make sure we create and environment downtown that our merchants our restaurants can all have the same landscape as other communities," the mayor said.

"We’ve got some great new businesses that have opened up in recent months and it's going to be fair and I think with that parity there no barrier here for people to come here and enjoy our downtown and hope that leads to greater success for our business owners."

Michele Baitley is chair of the Smiths Falls Downtown Business Association (DBA) and is also a business owner.

While the DBA was not on board initially with the free parking idea, they support it now.

"We didn't agree with it at first because we were going on the recommendations of the senior staff and the parking study. But, because of the town council's decision to do away with the parking meters and even on the side streets we are going to get behind them because we want to see Smiths Falls survive and thrive," Baitley said.

"There has been really positive feedback that we are catching up with other towns. Everybody likes something that is free as long as it’s enforced and people don't take advantage of it."

She hopes people will self-police the two-hour limit so others can come and enjoy the downtown.

"It's very important right now that we come together as a community and enjoy what's been done," she added.

Twenty steps down the street at the bakery, Rensby added that now more people would shop throughout the week.

"They knew if they came during the week they had to pay for parking. If they came on Saturday and Sunday they didn’t and so they would shop in neighbouring communities during the week and shop here on weekends knowing that they wouldn’t have to pay," Rensby said.

With sales down through the revitalization and then during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rensby hopes to see more people in the downtown core.

"Come spend a couple of hours - we’ve had new stores open up in the middle of a pandemic which I think a testament to the commitment that people have in this town," Rensby said.

"Come check out the new stores come take a stroll downtown come see what everybody has. It looks great."