Last week I sat through a couple of meetings with a host of staff from different City Departments trying to come up with a strategy to manage parking during the next 12-14 months when downtown construction (around Erie and Depeyster Streets) will be in full bloom.
We’ve worked hard to generate interest in our downtown and it’s working so well that now we’ve got some parking issues to handle until PARTA completes their new 350 space parking garage.
It’s fantastic that Mr. Burbick put the pedal to the metal and built new stores and shops in record time — but it’s left us with a little bit of gap before all of our parking resources are in place. But as one of our local bank Presidents said last week, “that’s a great problem to have and it’s one that we can solve.”
It is a great problem and we will solve it. We didn’t make all this investment in downtown to leave the new shop owners high and dry with customer parking — we’ve actually got a great comprehensive parking management plan that will be in full effect in March 2013 — the trouble is between then and now we’ve got to rebuild just about all the streets that have parking on them so the shop owners that jumped in downtown early are left wondering where does that leave their customers.
Fair question, and it’s a question that we’ve been working hard to have an equally fair answer. We’ve got some answers and we’re working with the downtown shop owners to come up with some more, but even if everything goes super smooth, the next 12 months are going to require a little creativity by customers to hang in there with us and support their new favorite shops as we rebuild everything around them.
We’ve promised to ALWAYS maintain access to the shops. That may mean a driving over a construction plate here and there but we’ll make sure that if there’s a shop you want to get to, you can, and while parking spots may shift around as the construction shifts around, there will always be parking in reasonably close proximity to the new shops.
As you’d expect the downtown shop owners and Kent City Council have put this issue at the top of our to do list, and even though it was already there, we’re putting in more time to come up with a bunch of contingency plans to carry us through the gap period.
The Parking Action Committee (downtown business owners, citizens, and staff) met last week to share schedules, concerns and ideas for parking options. It’s a smart and motivated bunch of people who seem to me to be exactly what we need to work our through the challenges posed by the 12 month timing gap in parking.
This group has decided to meet more frequently in order to spend more time together (and to adjust to changing construction impacts) so that we can develop and more importantly implement a strategy to minimize the construction impacts on the new business along Erie Street during this year’s street reconstruction for Depeyster and Erie Streets.
One of the more significant outcomes from the last week’s discussions was noting that even when the streets are being re-built there is free parking nearby that could be used by customers, but unless you’re a regular in downtown shopping it’s not always easy to know where that parking is. The Kent Chamber and others are going to help with that.
Over the next week or so we plan to put together an information and marketing campaign that will include signs, brochures, ads, etc., indicating that the businesses along Erie Street are open and pointing out where to find parking in the downtown. There’s no shortage of ideas for how to get that word out there and we’re going to commit city dollars to make sure that happens.
After hearing concerns for the many employees that work downtown who take up key retail parking spots, Public Safety Director Bill Lillich and Chief Lee also met internally to discuss options to put an increased emphasis on enforcement of the 2 hour limits in downtown, including after 5 pm and on Saturdays, in order to keep the prime retail parking locations turning over for customers rather than employees.
This past week we also met with all of the contractors downtown and advised them that they if they are using any of the on-street parking spots they will have to find alternative parking effective Monday (February 6) with the changing of the Erie Street parking from permit parking to 2 hour parking only.
PARTA, KSU and Fairmount also all agreed to put off-site parking requirements in their contracts for any of the construction work to be done downtown.
These are great places to start but the key will be sustaining this focus for 12 months and making adjustments for all those unexpected surprises that construction tends to bring. Most of all, we need patience and persistence from new customers. Dont’ give up on your downtown; it’s a beautiful thing even when it’s in the midst of remodeling.
We’ve waited so long for new retail and restaurants to arrive and now that there here, they need your support. Especially in the first couple of years which are notoriously challenging for any new business.