Oak Park will offer free parking on Saturdays in December as a way to help entice shoppers to the village during the holiday season.

The village board approved the change on Monday, which was requested by the Downtown Oak Park business association. Oak Park also will offer free parking at village meters and garages on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Pat Zubak, director of Downtown Oak Park, told trustees that retailers are bracing for a challenging holiday season. But, Zubak said, offering free Saturday parking in December would help downtown compete while sending a “powerful and compelling message” to shoppers.

Village Manager Tom Barwin estimated that Oak Park would sacrifice about $15,000 in revenues by not charging for parking on Dec. 5, 12 and 19. But village officials hope that loss will be offset by increased sales tax revenue from holiday shopping.

Trustees unanimously approved the free parking measure. But some worried about lost parking dollars and the possibility that employees who work near metered areas would monopolize those spaces.

“If I were a business owner, I would not be supportive of this,” said Village President David Pope. He suggested that the village evaluate the parking giveaway after this year and consider just doing it in parking garages in 2010.

Oak Park last offered free parking for the holidays in 2005. Members of the village’s business districts plan to put bags over meters on free-parking Saturdays to help avoid confusion.

-Marty Stempniak

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