For first time ever, Leavenworth charging for parking

LEAVENWORTH, Wash. -- Lederhosen? Check. Beer stein? Check. Giant pretzel? Check.

Quarters to feed the meter? Better bring some of those, too.

For the first time in its history, the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth is charging some of its visitors to park. The city installed two automated pay-to-park lots earlier this year.

"Eighty-six percent of our visitors come by car. We expect lots of folks in town," said city administrator Joel Walinski. "But there was problems on our various residential streets of even our emergency vehicles getting past."

Walinski said the town's popularity has been both a blessing and a curse (about 15,000 people come each weekend for the three-week Oktoberfest celebration, and a similar number return in December for the Christmas Lighting Festival). So many visitors means a boon to the city, but also means many of those visitors are driving around for long periods of time looking for a place to park.

"I always tell people: it's great that we have a parking problem," echoed Kevin Rieke, a local shop owner and president of the chamber of commerce. "It means people are coming and they love being here, and we just need to find them a place to park as easily as possible."

After about two years of studies, the city pinpointed two lots to install about 240 paid parking spaces: one, next to city hall, and the other about three blocks east, where the old Leavenworth fruit warehouse was, Walinski said. Parking costs $1.50 an hour, with a maximum of $7.50 per day (or a little less than the cost of two giant pretzels at the Danish Bakery on Front Street).

Complaints have been few and far between, Rieke said, although a group of visitors in his downtown shop were unimpressed with the changes.

"Every time you turn around there's a fee for this and a fee for that and those fees just seem to go up," said Candy Holland, who was visiting for the day. "Free parking is just going by the wayside in a lot of towns."

Walinski said the $110,000 projected revenue from the two lots this year will help cover the $2 million debt the city incurred in purchasing the old fruit warehouse property.

"There's still plus 800 spots of free parking," he added. "I've got my certain spots that I know. You're welcome to drive through town and see if you can find the spots."