Retail takes many stripes, but let's simply place into two types-- destination and service. Service retail is primarily for the benefit of the residents and offices nearby, and probably where downtown can excel -- drug store, coffee shops, dry cleaning, convenience store, etc.
All other shopping most often requires a massive population nearby, of which will not happen downtown in the near future, or a contiguous strip of retail that has a rational parking layout. Here is where the city can improve. Long-term, the city needs to expand the contiguous retail corridor beyond just Monroe (BTW, I am glad they disallowed the dentist).
Putting on my suburbanite hat, parking anxiety is primarily generated by two primary factors: ease and transparency of options.
Ease can be improved by variable parking rates that ensure convenient parking available is always available. Ease of parking garage can also be improved by removing sign clutter and ensuring that parking garage signage is prominently displayed. Entrances to parking garages should also be retrofitted to signify where the entrance is. In most instances, the parking garage entrance is minimized and uninviting. The design should say "Hey! Park Here!"
Regarding transparency, anxiety can be reduced by clearly displaying availability and the price of parking at the garage prior to entering the garage itself. A variable sign at the entrance saying:
- Parking Spaces Available: 182
- Price: 1 Hr Free / $5 per hr after
- Credit Cards accepted
provides transparency to a first-time user, so that they know what they are getting prior to turning off the street.
Ultimately, there will need to be a new location downtown that has a contiguous strip of retail. Ionia connecting Fulton and the new market might be the logical location, but it will require ensuring new development provides amenities and diversity beyond bars/restaurants...even if it means saying no from time to time.
I do agree that signage could be better. One thing about downtown Chicago, you can see the big obnoxious PARKING or PARK HERE signs from blocks away. I can't even tell you how many people I tell that I park in the Monroe Center ramp for an hour free every day, and they ask "where is that?" These are not stupid people either. I say "it's the ramp above Leo's, you enter next to Louis Benton Steakhouse off of Ionia" Their response: "I had no idea that was parking above Leo's."
At least dozen people I know have said that or something similar.
It is kind of strange that it's a Monroe Center ramp, but you enter off of Ionia after taking Ottawa and the Louis and then Ionia, and then once you park, you take the stairs down to Ionia, or the stairs down to Ottawa, or maybe if you're lucky you'll find the hallway that leads out to Monroe Center. It should be called the Monroe Center ramp that isn't really on Monroe Center.
As I said, if it were a software program, it'd be more of a piece of shit than Facebook is.
Add into that the challenge of parallel parking for most people. You have to be somewhat bold because you are actually stopping traffic and actually backing up into traffic. Then you have to fish for coins if you don't use parkmobile. And who keeps coins around anymore? Who even carries cash anymore? And I have to remember correctly, but do the meters even tell you how much time you get for how much money? 1 Quarter equals 1 hour?
As some of the commenters said, if your experience with going downtown is in the evenings, you're often confronted with $10 event parking. I won't pay event parking. I purposely will drive around and around until I find a free meter. Call me cheap, but $10 for parking when you're just going out for a $50 dinner is a big percentage. And I'm someone who knows that most of the meters are free after 6:00. I've been asked a ton of times while walking around downtown in the evenings, by people standing at the meter: "Do you know if I have to put money in the meter after 5:00?"
Or I'll watch people shovel coins into a meter at 7:00 at night, and I'll say "meters are free after 6:00." And they say "Shoot! It doesn't say that anywhere."
Two words: USER UNFRIENDLY
I have actually heard from higher ups at the city that, when they schedule business lunches with people who don't work downtown, they hold their meetings out at restaurants in East Hills or Creston or elsewhere, so they don't have to explain where and how to park. Of course, these people won't say these things publicly...