Parking to work in downtown Durango can eat up a worker’s income.
Figures from the Durango Chamber of Commerce show that more than 9,800 people work in the Central Business District as full-time, part-time or seasonal employees.
Nearly 15,000 work in the Durango area, including city employees, La Plata County employees and Durango Police Department employees. Parking is so tight in some places that some workers park in residential neighborhoods or find other free parking while others pay at parking meters or other paid parking, such as city parking lots.
Jen Rylko, manager of Guido’s Favorite Foods, said the city should give workers who can prove they work downtown a 50 percent discount on metered spaces. She said she works 40 hours a week and pays about $180 a month to park at meters beside the restaurant.
“Us employees are here driving the tourists,” Rylko said. “It’s not like we’re taking up all (of the city) spots. There’s always somewhere to park, and (the city) is making money off employees.”
U.S. Census Bureau data from 2011 show that of people who worked in Durango, a third made $1,250 per month or less, 38 percent earned between $1,251 and $3,333 per month and 31 percent earned more than $3,334 a month. Figures also showed that in 2011, nearly 10,000 people lived outside Durango but worked in the city.
Several other people who work in stores on Main Avenue parked at meters or used to park at meters. Sometimes, business owners help with the expense.
Lara Bailey, manager of Smoking Peppers Durango on Main Avenue, has worked 40 or more hours per week in the Central Business District for the last nine months. The store owner pays for her and another employee to park at a meter.
“They’re really frustrated because there’s no parking spaces, but there’s not much they can do about it,” Bailey said. “I usually just park as close to the door as possible.”
Retail associate Ashley Boyd rides her bike to work at Animas Trading Co. but used to park at the meters or “cheat” and park on East Third Avenue or in the south City Market parking lot.
“I would forget to keep my meter up because sometimes I’d work by myself, so I just can’t go back to the meter and, like, abandon the shop.”
Mike Shepherd, who has worked downtown for 15 years, has used a variety of parking options.
“I used to park at the meters until (the price) went up,” the manager of Olde Tymer’s Café said. “Now, it’s the same as a ticket, so you might as well park in the neighborhood and walk. For me here, all the parking lots are the same distance as where I park, so there’s no point in paying for that ,either.”
Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said he just bought a six-month parking permit and parks at the Durango Intermodal Transit Center. City officials have pointed to the convenience and availability of parking spaces at the Transit Center, but Shepherd sounds almost offended at the suggestion.
“That’s further than where I’m parked now,” he said.
Walsworth calls the parking lot convenient and said he believes downtown businesses encourage their employees not to use the meters or to use the 10-hour meters between Narrow Gauge Avenue and Camino del Rio.
“To me, this is the best option for downtown employees, and I would encourage all of them that have to drive to work to use the city lots,” he said.
Not every downtown worker is paying for parking, angering some residents on East Third and East Fourth avenues. Shepherd parks for free around 10th Street and East Fifth Avenue, he said.
“I feel like something should be done about it,” said Reagyn Germer, an attorney who lives on East Fourth Avenue. “It is the usual people who are parking in front of our house.”
The city has 475 employees, and the county has 400, according to the chamber website. Roy Petersen, city operations director, said the city has four permit parking lots, but city employees can’t park there unless they purchase a parking permit. City employees, not including those who work for the police department, can get decals to park at a meter if the parking lot is full. Every person who purchases a permit can park in these lots, not just city employees.
Ray Shupe, Durango Police Department spokesman, didn’t respond to requests for comment on where department employees park their personal cars.
The county has a handful of designated spaces behind the La Plata County Courthouse on East Second Avenue and at the Old Main Post Office Building for county vehicles, department heads and elected officials, Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina said. She said probably more than 100 people work at the courthouse.
Fred Zimmerman, who lives in the 900 block of East Third Avenue, says government employees have always used his street to park their personal cars because of the close proximity to the city and county offices on East Second Avenue. While some residents are upset with the lack of spaces in front of their houses during the day, the longtime Durangoan seems to take it in stride.
“It didn’t used to be as bad,” he said. “If you move a vehicle between 8 (a.m.) and 5 (p.m.), the odds are that you won’t get your parking places back, but sometimes at lunchtime, you get lucky.”
Zimmerman said he recognizes about two-thirds of the cars and the people who park on his block. The retiree clocks the comings and goings of people on his street to judge whether they work for the city, county, police station or a private business. Having police employees park near his house makes him feel safe, and he reciprocates by using his snowblower to remove snow off their cars on his side of the street in bad winters.
“We’ve got a parking problem all over Durango,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”