Free after 3 — it has a nice ring.

That jingle soon could be making music in downtown business owners' ears as Salt Lake City ponders whether it will — on a trial basis — allow free parking downtown after 3 p.m.

While the plan hasn't been formalized and it isn't known when the trial would begin, if the city adopted "free after 3" it would permit people to park while they shop, catch a movie or take a late lunch without having to worry about feeding a meter.

"We don't have a specific proposal but free after 3 is maybe an idea we can pursue," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson told the City Council Tuesday.

Anderson said he would work with the council to develop the plan further.

However, in a tight budget year it would also cut into Salt Lake City's $1.5 million yearly parking meter business.

Councilman Van Turner said he was concerned about losing cash. "We have to look at these meters as revenue sources," he said.

In presenting his budget recommendations to the City Council last week, Anderson asked for $100,000 to begin the project.

Council Chair Jill Remington Love said the mayor's plan has taken shape in recent weeks. Anderson had informally pitched a more vague concept, like having free parking during special events, but then the free parking after 3 idea developed, Love said.

"I'm willing to consider it," she said. "I hear all the time from residents who are trying to shop and go downtown, that parking is just too difficult. Anything we can do to alleviate that notion is a good thing."

At Utah Artists Hands, on 100 South between Main Street and West Temple, owner Pam O'Mara agrees the idea has promise.

While O'Mara disliked the city's Christmas free parking plan, which allowed free parking during the month-long Christmas shopping season at all city meters, she said "free after 3" is better.

During Christmas, downtown workers would hog the free meters, making it even harder for shoppers to find parking, O'Mara said. Having free parking only after 3 p.m. likely would alleviate that problem since most downtown employees would have to find pay parking before 3.

"It probably would be a really good thing," she said.

Anderson is also asking for a return of the city's free Christmas parking plan.

The 2003 Christmas shopping season was a boon for Salt Lake retailers, according to data from the Utah Tax Commission. However, it is not known how much of that boon was due to the city's free parking plan.

The "free after 3" plan is expected to cost the city $100,000 in lost meter revenues. The free parking for Christmas plan would suck up another $90,000.

"I'm open to it. On the other hand, it's kind of hard to give up on money right now," Councilman Dave Buhler said. "I mean, I wish we didn't have meters at all downtown, but then we have to think about how we would pay for parking enforcement."


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com