Start saving your pennies, Raleigh: Starting Jan. 1, you’ll have to pay to use eight of the downtown public parking decks on weekends.

This isn’t a new thing, of course. The City Council included a parking fee in its budget this summer, arguing that the city needed the extra money to offset increasing maintenance and cleanup costs. But downtown business leaders, led by Busy Bee Café co-owner David Meekerthe son of former mayor Charles Meeker and (disclosure) the nephew of INDY co-owner Richard Meekerchafed, worrying that the new fees would scare off customers. In July, they asked that any new fees be phased in or confined to Friday and Saturday nights.

And the city reconsideredor appeared to, anyway. Over the last several months, the Public Works Department has convened a series of meetings with downtown business owners to try to hash out a compromise. The final one was on Friday; the matter goes back to Council on Tuesday, after the INDY goes to press.

If Council signs off on staff’s recommendation, public decks will charge a $5 flat fee for parking from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Thursday and Friday nights, all day Saturday and for special events on Sundays. Employees would be able to buy a monthly pass, good for use three nights a week, for $30. The city estimates that would generate nearly $1.2 million a year. (Street parking will still be free on nights and weekends.)

“Our goals were to keep it simple,” transportation operations manager Mike Kennon said at the meeting Friday. “Our goals were to try to minimize impacts to businesses while having a high level of service for the cleanliness and repairs of the decks.”

This new proposal is something of a victory for downtown business owners. After all, the fee was originally going to be in place every night and all day on weekends, so the city did scale back. And it’s not like most major downtowns don’t charge for parking.

Even so, business owners aren’t happy.

“It’s taking a gamble on how people are going to react,” David Meeker told city staff Friday. “My gut feeling is that not as many folks are going to come downtown, and there’s going to be a big impact on the restaurant business and to retail on Saturday. If we want to be competitive with other retailers”e.g., North Hills and Cameron Village”where parking is free, it’s going to be a problem.”

Downtown bars are especially concerned about the impact the new fees will have in conjunction with the sidewalk-drinking restrictions that bar owners argue have already eaten into their profits. “This is going to bomb us out,” said Parker Kennedy, who owns Caffe Luna. “This is not New York City. This is a town. You can’t charge five bucks to park in a town.”

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