The City of Guelph is looking at eliminating free parking in the city’s downtown, five years after it was introduced.

That’s just one of several options on the table as the city re-examines its parking policies in a larger effort to bring more people and jobs downtown.

Downtown retailers say the free two-hour parking policy, which was introduced five years ago, is the only thing keeping them able to compete against major shopping centres like the Stone Road Mall.

“If you start charging for parking, it’s going to discourage what little business there is,” says David Clarke, who owns Shakti Shop on Carden Street.

Lillian Berry agrees. She went downtown to shop Monday morning, but says paid parking would likely have stopped her from doing so.

“I appreciate the two-hour (free) parking. That’s one of the reasons I would come down,” she says.

Construction on Guelph’s City Hall kept streets closed and sales down in the downtown for several years, and Clarke fears returning to paid parking will undo any good work caused by the renovations.

“It was bad (for) four or five years with the construction,” he says.

“Now things are much better and we’re just recovering.”

Resident Carl Mackie says ending free parking would only end up hurting the downtown.

“We’re trying to get the people to come down and get the core more active,” he says.

Guelph city officials say no decision has been reached and the city is only examining options to get more people downtown.

“How to get this better managed and produce more parking during the day for the business and activities to happen but equally, if you do that, how do you support the long-term permits?” explains Ian Panabaker, Guelph’s general manager of downtown renewal.

The results of the study will be presented to council in May.

A public meeting is being held Tuesday night at Guelph City Hall, starting at 6 p.m.