Councilors Seek Free Washington-Wingate Christmas Parking

Last year, a sign indicated Mayor James J. Fiorentini personally authorized free Christmas shopping.

The City Council is asking Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini to offer free parking in the Washington Street Historic District in the days leading up to Christmas.

With five ‘yes’ votes and four members abstaining, councilors are requesting all parking in the downtown area of Washington be free of charge Thursday, Dec. 22, and Friday, Dec. 23, in the hopes of promoting downtown shopping this holiday season. The proposal was motioned by Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua and seconded by Councilor William J. Macek.

“We should take this as an opportunity to try to encourage our shoppers to visit the downtown and make their shopping experience a little bit easier. Because the only place where you have to pay to shop in Haverhill is in the Washington-Wingate historic district,” Bevilacqua said.

Councilor Andy Vargas, who was among four who abstained from the vote, noted that while the intentions of the idea are good it could adversely affect the shopping experience in downtown Haverhill. “If we allow absolute free parking, we might see folks taking up storefront parking spots which will take away spots for folks who want to pull up, grab something, and leave right away,” Vargas said.

Residents using the commuter rail and possibly taking advantage of the free spaces concerns Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’ Brien said, “I’m concerned about the commuters that immediately go after the free parking because we have the railroad station right there,” she said. O’Brien, however, believes that an experience similar to last week’s Christmas Stroll could result from the free parking which benefited shops downtown. “I went into a lot of stores during the Christmas Stroll and they were so happy to see the amount of people they got in…so I’m not against the essence of what we’re trying to do, I’m just concerned about the details,” she added.

Noting current parking ordinances cover not just Washington and Wingate Streets, as targeted by Bevilaqua, but also Merrimack Street, Macek questioned whether councilors associated with Merrimack Street businesses are allowed to vote. Council President John A. Michitson did not rule on the question, but Councilors Melinda Barrett, Michael S. McGonagle and Thomas J. Sullivan, all business owners, elected to abstain.

Barrett pointed out Fiorentini unilaterally allowed free parking last season, but she has not heard his plans for this year.

“If it sends out a positive message to the consumer that you’re welcome in downtown Haverhill, then it would have benefited,” Bevilacqua added at the end of the discussion.

Despite other concerns about parking ordinances in downtown Haverhill, Councilors went ahead with the vote to make the request to the mayor.

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