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Originally published February 13, 2013 at 8:42 PM | Page modified February 14, 2013 at 9:30 AM

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City blinks on parking rates, hours — in one neighborhood, at least

Mayor Mike McGinn has agreed to roll back parking rates in the Chinatown International District after merchant complaints about a sharp drop in business.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Mayor Mike McGinn has agreed to roll back parking rates in the Chinatown International District a year after restaurant owners and community leaders complained that the longer hours had caused a sharp drop in business.

“We’re thrilled, and I think the city is as excited as we are,” said Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area.

Evening parking rates will drop from $2.50 to $1.50 an hour from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the heart of the International District. The outer areas, with about 300 of the total 450 on-street parking spaces, will again be free after 6 p.m. The new rates are expected to go into effect in early March.

McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus said the parking-rate system is dynamic and relies on data, and that McGinn’s office led a team to review them and respond to the neighborhood’s concerns.

The rollbacks raise the question of whether other neighborhoods will lobby for similar rate adjustments; the mayor said the city is collecting similar data in other neighborhoods.

McGinn, with the support of the City Council, raised downtown parking rates in 2011 to $4 an hour and extended the paid time from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in eight neighborhoods with heavy evening demand, including Pioneer Square, Belltown and Capitol Hill.

The increases were especially unpopular with downtown restaurant owners, who said the higher rates added to the price of dining out and would drive some customers to other cities where parking was free.

Seattle chef Tom Douglas, who was angered by the extension of parking-meter hours past 6 p.m., said Wednesday that he still thought the different rates around town hurt business.

“It costs more to park in front of Wild Ginger than the Dahlia Lounge and more to park in front of the Dahlia Lounge than Tai Tung (in the International District). It’s nonsense and it’s self-defeating,” Douglas said.

In the Chinatown International District, local restaurant owners complained in February 2012 that business was down by as much as 50 percent in the evening, following the city’s imposition of extended parking-rate hours.

Sightline, an advocacy group that backed the mayor’s market-driven parking rates as a way to reduce congestion and better reflect the true costs to the environment of driving cars, challenged that assertion, saying reports of lost business were anecdotal, not factual. They also quoted tax data, released by the mayor’s staff, to show there hadn’t been a negative impact.

Community leaders countered that the revenue data included mostly the largest restaurants, several of which had private parking lots and were less affected by the evening rates.

Blakeney said the mayor agreed to meet with business leaders and restaurant owners to hear their concerns. McGinn directed the Office of Economic Development and the Transportation Department to conduct a number of studies, including analyzing parking demand and use, business receipts and interviews with visitors to determine what factors affected their decisions about where to eat out and why they came to the neighborhood.

The results showed that business had dropped about 20 to 30 percent since the extended-hour parking rates went into effect, Blakeney said.

The city also plans to review parking patterns and business activity six months after the rates are lowered.

Alice Chan, owner of the Sea Garden Restaurant, said she was disappointed that the heart of the International District would still have paid parking from 6 to 8 p.m., even though the per-hour charge will be one dollar less.

“I hope there’s some improvement in business. We won’t know until March.”

Lynn Thompson: lthompson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter:@lthompsontimes

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