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Downtown St. Paul is cool now, so you'll have to pay more to park

St. Paul's parking meter rates and enforcement hours increase on Monday.

St. Paul's parking meter rates and enforcement hours increase on Monday.

With a sleek new ballpark, light-rail transit, and new and improved food and drink options, downtown St. Paul is shedding the “sleepy” descriptor that dogged its cobblestone streets for years. But if sold-out Saints games and full dining rooms weren’t indicative of downtown’s come-up, perhaps its parking situation is.

Starting Monday, those hoping to catch a show at the Ordway Theater or pound a bologna sandwich at buzzy Saint Dinette will have to pay a little more to park. The city toasts the new year and downtown’s new life with increased parking meter hours and rates (hooray?).

“It made it easier for us to do it because of the increased activity,” says Kathy Lantry, the city’s public works director.

For years city meters were turned off before happy hour ended. But under the new plan they will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday (meters are still free on the Sabbath). That temporary parking space will cost $2 an hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and a buck an hour from 6 to 10 p.m., though certain low-demand areas around town will be cheaper.

Price-wise it’s only a slight increase from the previous $1.75 to $2 rates (50 cents to $1 where demand was lower). Still, the days of free on-street dinner parking in downtown St. Paul are over.

Nevertheless, Lantry isn’t worried that now having to shell out $2 to park during a two-hour meal will deter would-be diners.

“Conventional wisdom used to be that free parking attracted people to an area,” Lantry says. “I don’t know that that’s the case anymore.”

Jennifer Baltes, a manager at the Lowertown Barrio, isn’t too concerned about the pay-to-park increases hurting business, either — though she cautions that it’s hard to tell until the new rules kick in. But with meters now being enforced after 5 p.m. (right before the dinner rush), the tequila bar’s employees will feel it.

“They’re going to have to run out to plug the meter” during their shifts, she says.

The city is also adding special event rates for when the Xcel Energy Center and CHS Field are rocking. Parking near the X will run $3.75 an hour, while meters near the St. Paul Saints’ ballpark will be $2.50 per hour (peep the event-rate zones here).

The new parking rules are expected to net the city an extra $1 million a year. The changes, partially triggered by a parking management study, were approved in St. Paul’s annual budget last month. And no, it had nothing to do with the Grand Avenue parking meter debacle, which brought hell’s wrath upon city leaders, Lantry says.