By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — The city on Thursday announced major changes on the way for parking rules in downtown Wausau, after a local business owner made headlines with an attention-grabbing sign aimed at parking ticket recipients.

Though the changes were announced this week in a news release, the new rules are still subject to final council approval. A vote is set for Aug. 15.

Among the changes: all on-street parking spaces in the downtown area will be standardized to two hours of free parking and all parking meters will be removed in those spaces. In addition, first-time parking tickets will soon be free, a move that aims to create a more welcoming environment for Wausau’s visitors.

Mayor Robert Mielke said the changes will be implemented in the fall.

The city’s downtown surface parking lots and the Jefferson Street ramp will also have two hours of free parking. Parking pay stations, yet to be installed, will accept coin, cash and credit cards with a new parking mobile app to provide parking reminders via text and allow remote extended time purchases for drivers who need more time than the free two hours, according to the release. The mobile app, Passport, is the same system used in cities around the state including Appleton, Green Bay, Stevens Point, La Crosse and Fond du Lac.

New license plate recognition technology will eliminate the current chalking process, potentially improving enforcement and ensuring on-street space turnover more quickly, the release states.

To satisfy the parking needs of downtown business employees, the city will offer “competitive” monthly permits and a $5 monthly pass at the roof of the Jefferson Street and Sears ramps as well as in the River Drive lot, the release states.

The city will spend about about $300,000 on the automated pay stations and license plate recognition software, according to city documents. The funds will come from the city’s parking fund reserves. The expense was approved in July by members of the finance committee.

The changes rely in part on findings from a consultant the city hired four years ago. In June 2014, city officials approved a $54,000 plan to hire Walker Parking Consultants to study the area’s needs and assess parking downtown. This marks the first major change for downtown parking since the study was completed.

In June, Tyler Vogt, who co-owns Malarkey’s Pub, Townie’s Grill, and the Ugly Mug in downtown Wausau, erected a vintage parking meter outside Malarkey’s with a sign that read: “Parking ticket? Bring it in, we will give you 1/2 off a drink and mail it for you! We have stamps, envelopes & bartenders!” The sign was a lighthearted way to draw attention to what he calls inconsistent parking rules that have been a source of frustration for patrons who use the downtown area’s roughly 3,700 parking spaces.

The city collected $256,015 in revenue from parking citations in 2017, according to Finance Director MaryAnne Groat.

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