Parking rates are inching higher at busy downtown Minneapolis ramps as more commuters adopt hybrid schedules and head to the offices at least a few days a week.
The rate hikes are creating sticker shock among some office workers navigating the hybrid schedules. The move has captured the attention of city boosters, who realize some workers are figuring out how many days they want to come downtown.
"We know that for as long as anyone can remember, parking is one of those top issues that people cite about challenges related to being downtown," said Steve Cramer, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. "So let's not cut off our nose to spite our face."
Parking is a big factor in what commuters decide to do, he said. So far, at least five downtown parking ramps boosted rates this month.
In response, internal message boards and social media have workers asking where the cheaper options are and talking about how ramps or lots farther away add to the commute. Others say they will avoid spending their whole shifts at the offices.
Cramer said the council is closely monitoring the situation.
On Monday, the Center Village ramp that Dennison Parking runs on 7th Street shot from $7.50 a day (if in by 10 a.m.) to $9 and $11 depending if you arrive before 9 or 10 a.m.
The Sora Apartments ramp across the street also beefed up prices, as did the surface lots at 7th Street/Park Avenue and 9th Street/3rd Avenue S.
"I'm guessing it's in response to increased business there," said Minneapolis Parking Systems Manager Tim Drew. Some ramps "raised their rates because they are starting to see ramps fill up or get close to full."
The city manages 15 ramps, and many are now more than half full, with a handful full on any given day, he said.
Overall, municipal ramps throughout the city are 40% full, he said. Occupancy was as high as 85% before the pandemic. But it plunged to 7% by May 2020 as downtown became a ghost town.
At the time, most private owners of parking lots slashed their rates to entice customers to come back as the pandemic ran its course. City lots held firm on their prices throughout the pandemic.
This month, the city boosted its pricing for two of its busiest facilities.
The early bird special rate rose from $5 to $6 at the municipal ramp on 10th and Hennepin Avenue.
And on Monday, Minneapolis ended its discounted "reloadable parking card" option for the busy 10th Street/LaSalle Avenue ramp underneath the Target store on Nicollet Mall.
That move catapulted the all-day rate from $6 to $14, angering several commuters who complained privately that they will no longer park there and so must park farther away, which is inconvenient.
For now, the city has no foreseeable plans to boost fees at other ramps, Drew said.
Parking revenue for the city dropped from $48.3 million in 2019 to $18 million in 2021. It rose to $28 million last year, and generated $11 million for the first four months of 2023.
Drew sees the busier ramps downtown charging more. But while event parking is back to pre-pandemic levels, he does not see the office traffic coming back to that level anytime soon.
The latest Downtown Council survey found that 65% of pre-pandemic workers are downtown at least once a week.
"Our perspective would be, let us be careful about those rate increases because we still are far from over the hump in terms of bringing workers [back] down," Cramer said.
While occupancy and revenue are growing, Drew doesn't expect rate jumps to spread quickly at the dozens of privately owned and operated lots and ramps sprinkled across downtown.
"It will be a slow trickle," he said.
Downtown workers have a lot of choices, and if someone raises prices too much, they will lose customers, he said.
City officials this week announced a new effort to encourage people to come downtown that includes free parking for one day of the week.
For the summer, the city and its partners will host a new "Downtown Thursdays" with activities, food trucks and games on Nicollet Mall. There will be free parking vouchers for the city's Plaza Park Ramp at 116 12th S. St.
City officials noted that the vouchers can be picked up at Strive Bookstore in the IDS Center, 80 S. 8th St., Suite 254 or at the Minneapolis Visitor Information Center at 505 Nicollet Mall, Suite 100.