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Free Sunday Parking But Also Pay-Until-Midnight in River North in New Deal

By  Ted Cox and Mike Brockway | April 29, 2013 11:01am | Updated on April 29, 2013 5:32pm

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he's trying to "make a little lemonade out of a big lemon" on the parking meter deal
Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he's trying to "make a little lemonade out of a big lemon" on the parking meter deal
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Ripping the 75-year parking-meter privatization deal he inherited as a "straitjacket on the city," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday the city has reworked parts of the "lemon" contract to provide "wiggle room" for drivers.

"This was a bad deal for our city and a bad contract for our residents," Emanuel said at news conference announcing the package, which includes free parking on Sundays in neighborhoods outside of Downtown. "The city should never have done this deal. Period."

As part of a reworked deal, drivers would be able to park free on Sundays beginning late this summer in neighborhoods outside an area bordered by North Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Halsted Street and the lake. There's also a pay-by-cellphone element set to take effect next summer.

 A Chicago parking meter paybox.
A Chicago parking meter paybox.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

“I feel strongly that Sunday should be a day when folks are freed from the grasp of the parking-meter company," Emanuel said. "Whether you go to church or not, everyone deserves a break from feeding parking meters in our neighborhoods on Sunday. Beginning late this summer, Chicagoans will get that relief.”

Yet, as part of the new deal, parkers in River North would have to feed meters until midnight (an extra three hours), and meters that currently run until 9 p.m. elsewhere in the city would have to be fed until 10 p.m. Meters that run until 6 p.m. would not have extended hours.

"Overall the city, in terms of the package and the agreement, really comes out on top here," said mayoral spokeswoman Kathleen Strand. She said best estimates are drivers will save $8 million parking in the neighborhoods on Sunday, but pay $7 million for extended evening hours. She added that about 10 percent of the city's 35,000 metered spaces are in the River North area.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) was critical of the plan, which he said he had no knowledge of even though it has a big impact of residents of his downtown ward.

"As recently as last week, I've been in meetings with members of the cabinet involved in these negotiations, and at no moment did anyone mention this to me," Reilly said in response, adding he's "disappointed that I wasn't included in those discussions" since the proposal "would essentially be financed by extending meter hours in the 42nd Ward."

And Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) is not convinced there was a net benefit to residents since the hours of enforcement are expanding in some areas. Waguespack says the extended hours might end up costing drivers more in the long run and will benefit Chicago Parking Meters, the private company that now runs the meters.

“It’s essentially going to be a wash or we’re going to be paying more,” said Waguespack. “Restaurant patrons, bar patrons, they'll all be paying more. That would probably make them [CPM] a lot more [money].”

But Emanuel noted that the new deal also gives the city better ability to contest bills from CPM, which under the old contract could bill the city for lost revenue if meters were not accessible because of street closures. The deal represents a settlement on the amount of those fees, which had been contested, and changes procedure so the city will now submit invoices to CPM on how much the city believes it owes for street closures, rather CPM billing the city.

"I wasn't about to accept their word or their numbers on what we owed them," Emanuel said. According to his figures, the city had $49 million in bills from CPM for lost revenue on street closures over the last two years and negotiated it down to $8.9 million. That $20 million a year in savings, he said, would result in well over $1 billion in overall savings over the life of the contract.

"We now have the ability to go toe to toe with the parking meters company," he added.

"We took a hard line with the company over the bills they were sending us," Emanuel said. "That won't undo this deal, but it will make it fairer for the city and, most important, Chicago taxpayers."

Waguespack praised the fact that the city will have better ability to monitor the billing for street closures. But he questioned why the city hasn't joined a lawsuit questioning the legality of the entire agreement filed by a group of Chicago citizens.

"Why not go to court and fight the whole thing?" Waguespack asked.

CPM, however, cheered the compromise and urged Council passage, stating: "In the best interests of the people of Chicago, CPM collaborated with the administration and believes that our willingness to work with the city demonstrates our desire to provide the most efficient and technologically advanced parking meter system possible for the City of Chicago."

Still, Emanuel made clear he feels stuck with a lousy deal.

"This contract is a straitjacket on the city," Emanuel said. "I wanted to create a little wiggle room for our residents.

"I'm trying to make a little lemonade out of a bad lemon," Emanuel added. "We did make it a little less bad for the next seven decades."

Emanuel lashed out time and again at the deal he inherited from former Mayor Richard M. Daley that privatized the city's parking meters for 75 years.

The deal needs approval by the City Council. Emanuel will submit an ordinance on the issue May 8 for consideration the following month. He used that to take another swipe at Daley and his original deal, which was pushed through the City Council in 48 hours in 2008.

"I expect the City Council to take time to review this proposal and ask questions, time not provided the first time around," Emanuel said.

Reporter/producer Lizzie Schiffman contributed to this report.