Wollongong City Council has installed parking meters in what was the last remaining free car park in the city centre.
The move comes as the council loses its hold on a temporary 59-space metered car park within the former Oxford Tavern site, which is to be developed.
Development is also nearing on the nearby former Dwyers car dealership site, where 140 paid car spaces are expected to close within 12 to 18 months.
The 150-space Stewart Street East car park, a short distance from WIN Entertainment Centre, has been a prized space for shoppers and CBD workers wanting to avoid the overcrowded or metered car parks elsewhere in the city.
Until now it has been a four-hours-for-free arrangement, but from March 17 it will cost 60¢ an hour to park at the site between 8.30am and 4.30pm.
The change has angered users of the car park, who will be slugged $4.80 a day for a full eight-hour stay, or $24 for the working week.
Figtree's Lee Darby, who left her car at the Stewart Street East site on Wednesday, said the meters were "a bad idea" and would hurt retailers already hit hard by the influx of meters elsewhere in the city.
"I think there should be one parking area in Wollongong kept free," she said.
Anna Mendez, who works in the CBD, said she would have no choice but to feed the new meters as parking was so difficult to find elsewhere.
Ms Mendez estimated it would take an hour for her to bus to the city from her Flinders home.
"I thought [the Stewart Street East car park] was a wonderful free option for workers," Ms Mendez said.
"The Dwyers site is full well before [9am].
"The only other free options are just too far away."
Ms Mendez moves her car within the Stewart Street East site each lunchtime in line with the four-hour rule.
Some workers park, then return at lunchtime to check their tyres and those of their workmates for chalk strokes, which indicate council rangers are active.
If the tyres are unmarked, they will give the all-clear to their co-workers and will leave their cars parked free for the entire working day.
In a prepared statement, the council's manager of property and recreation services, Peter Coyte, said the change would provide more all-day parking options.
"Council is working to provide better parking options for workers in the city centre.
"We regularly review how spaces are used, and identified a need to provide more all-day parking options, particularly given the anticipated closure of two temporary car parks."
All council parking in the city centre is free before 8.30am and after 4.30pm on weekdays, and all day on weekends and public holidays.