Five minutes or five hours, $12 to park in Mystic

The sign explaining the flat parking rate in Mystic, as it appeared Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Water Street entrance of the parking lot. (David Collins/The Day)
The sign explaining the flat parking rate in Mystic, as it appeared Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, at the Water Street entrance of the parking lot. (David Collins/The Day)

It seems that the Mystic Museum of Art, running without a permanent director, has been a bit adrift this summer.

At least that's a message from the museum's management of the parking dynamics in downtown Mystic.

The museum is the 800-pound gorilla of parking in Mystic because it owns the sprawling lot that rambles behind most of the commercial buildings between the Mystic River and Main and Water streets. It's the only paid parking game in town, pretty much your only choice if you can't find a space on the street.

So when the museum, reacting to a lightning strike that took out its parking lot payment computer system in August, changed to a flat $12 rate, merchants began feeling the pain.

A museum spokesman told me Wednesday a meeting is scheduled for Friday with computer experts, and a decision will be made soon on whether to repair the system or change it. Costs for restoring the computer system range from $3,000 to $20,000, he said, and a manual system with booth attendants time-stamping tickets also is under consideration. 

I don't blame merchants who say they have grown tired of holding their breath.

Bill Furgueson, museum director of external affairs, also told me that two finalists for the vacant job of museum executive director were interviewed this week. Presumably, it's someone who might know that two months in the high tourist season is too long to take to fix a broken parking payment system that affects commerce throughout the town.

A principal complaint I heard about the change in August to a flat parking rate is that the policy of giving the first half-hour of parking free was eliminated. That blocked a lot of service visits, merchants said, customers or suppliers trying to make quick visits to drop off or pick up merchandise.

But the flat rate also discourages people from visiting, some merchants say — customers who might have paid the old rate of $3 an hour but were not interested in spending $12 for what might be a visit for a short meal or a quick shopping stop.

After all, most parking in southeastern Connecticut, including the nearby Olde Mystick Village, is free.

One business owner did suggest that the $12 rate might be helping, since people are inclined to stay in town longer and shop more, once they have committed to pay for unlimited parking time. But that seemed to be a minority perspective.

Furgueson said the $12 rate was chosen because it seemed to reflect an average length of stay: about four hours at $3 an hour. He told me that merchants were told they could write on validation coupons to let customers out for free after a half- hour, but none that I talked to believed that was possible.

The first half-hour for free will resume when the system is changed again, Furgueson said, although the previous hourly rate of $3 will probably increase.

I got the impression that communications between the museum and merchants about the parking rates began to improve after I began asking questions. Furgueson told me they were considering throwing a cocktail party and inviting merchants to hear about changes in store.

I'm not sure liquor needs to be involved. The business owners I heard from just wanted some straight answers during the two months of flat rate dysfunction.

It could be that the first order of business for the new director of the museum could be a meet-and-greet walk about town. It seems some relationship building is in order.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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