DOWNTOWN — Parking for three hours in Downtown Santa Monica and not paying a dime for the privilege is soon to be a thing of the past.

Parking Structure 8, one of the two parking structures attached to Santa Monica Place, was one of the last two City Hall-owned structures where you could pull off the feat. But the lot closed for renovation on Monday, and when it re-opens in four months the plan is to operate the structure like most other public lots, with the first two hours offered for free and an hourly fee charged after that.

Once the renovation is complete City Hall will close Parking Structure 7 at Broadway and Fourth Street to perform the same upgrade, said Don Patterson, City Hall’s business and revenues operations manager.

Among those who run business Downtown there’s some concern the changes could impact employees who have relied on the lots in the past, moving their cars every three hours to avoid tickets but managing to park for free all day.

At Buddha’s Belly, which has a location on Broadway Avenue, general manager Travis Moore said City Hall’s decision to change the lots could make getting to work more difficult for some of his employees.

Though many employees ride bikes to work and the kitchen staff receives free bus passes from the company, some front-of-the-house employees are used to taking advantage of structures 7 and 8.

“Once [the parking lot renovation] goes forward I’m not really sure what they’re going to do,” he said.

But Moore said the restaurant isn’t planning to start paying for employee parking.

“We try to do our part with the bus passes, really for our staff and the community as well,” he said.

At the Bayside District Corp., CEO Kathleen Rawson said work to mitigate the impacts of parking changes on employees remains a priority.

She said her organization is working on a plan that will be tailored to “off-peak” employees who mainly work in the evenings and on weekends. The idea, she said, is to create an arrangement with private parking lot owners to provide parking spaces to these employees at a discounted rate.

Off-peak parking spaces in private garages, she said, often sit empty.

“This is an asset that they have that is currently underutilized,” she said.

Another aspect of Bayside’s effort is to present City Hall with a plan to give employees access to cheaper parking spaces that are located further from the main shopping areas. She said no details about how much employees would be asked to pay for the less desirable spaces are yet available. The hope, though, is to improve parking availability for shoppers, who would presumably have an easier time finding spaces next to stores, and employees who could save money by parking a bit further from work, she said.

Other businesses located on Broadway said they weren’t concerned about the planned parking changes.

At Broadway Deli, for example, General Manager Marc Zeidler said he’s not expecting the change to have a big impact on his staff because about 80 percent of the restaurant’s employees take public transportation to get to work.

“It may be more of them will use public transportation but I don’t think it will really affect [us] that much,” he said.

Bob Aptaker, the vice president of development for Macerich Co., the company that is developing Santa Monica Place, which is set to open this summer, said the newly renovated lots will feature nicer stairwells and elevators as well as artwork and better lighting. The result will be a “seamless experience between the garages and Santa Monica Place,” he said.

While employees won’t be able to get three hours free parking anymore, he said the change isn’t without benefit.

“The other good thing about that is you won’t get parking tickets anymore,” he said.

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