Two weeks ago, downtown merchant Justin Arndt suggested to city officials that the prime downtown property recently acquired by the city be converted into a parking area. He repeated that suggestion on Monday, and other merchants joined him in doing so.
And Mayor Rick Gottman and city aldermen also heard another group suggest that the property be used to help beautify the downtown business district.
At the city council’s June 20 meeting, Arndt told Gottman and aldermen that he and some other downtown merchants “would love to see a parking lot” at the northwest corner of Fifth and Gallatin streets.
During busy periods, customers wanting to use downtown businesses, especially those in the 500 block of West Gallatin, “there is no parking.
“If you have customers and you can’t accommodate them, you need to try to figure out a way to accommodate them,” Arndt said.
“There has to be something that we can at least attempt,” he said. “Anything would help.”
During the discussion, violations of the city’s two-hour parking limit on Gallatin Street came up, with the violators being residents of buildings in upper levels of Gallatin buildings and, sometimes, merchants themselves.
At the close of the discussion, Gottman directed the council’s safety and streets committees to study the issue.
On Monday night, Alderman B. John Clark said that he had spoken with a group of downtown merchants.
Arndt then started the discussion, saying that he had presented the council last September to address the downtown parking issue, with other merchants joining in that request, and that today, “the feelings are still the same.
“Anything the city could do would be greatly appreciated,” he said.
Arndt told city officials that having parking available close to downtown stores is critical, because “the thing we have to offer is convenience,” along with knowledge about their products and services.
Joyce Staff and Marilyn Truitt of the city’s newly formed beautification committee expressed an opinion that differs from that of Arndt and other merchants.
“I have had any number of people express to me that they would like that not to be a parking lot,” Staff said.
Truitt said that the committee favors something that both improves the appearance of the downtown and is related to the town’s historical background.
“We have some ideas in mind that that (property) could be used for,” Truitt said.
Alderman Mike Hobler asked how many parking spaces could be put into the new city property.
Arndt said that he has figured, using state requirements, that the lot could house 14 spaces, and Gottman said that an engineer has told him that it could provide 13 spaces.
Gottman said that it would cost “several hundred thousand dollars” to turn the property into a parking lot, and that such a project could not be included in the budget for the new fiscal year, which began on May 1.
Kay Johnson, who owns buildings downtown, said that she doesn’t know why the city could not both improve the appearance of the downtown and create more parking for businesses.
She said that when she worked at The Village Shoppe when it was in the 500 block of Gallatin, “It was always parking” that was an issue.
“What we can do is support the people who are trying to save Gallatin Street,” Johnson said.
Angie Rhodes, who owns Gallatin Street Grille with her husband, Rick, stressed the need for more parking in that area.
“Beautification is not going to do anything if there are no businesses downtown,” Rhodes said.
She said that many of her customers are visitors from other towns, and that those visitors “want to go to local businesses.
“They don’t want to just see beauty; they want to see thriving businesses,” Rhodes said.
Alderman Jerry Swarm said that he operated two businesses downtown and his experience has been that “this has been a problem for decades.”
A problem back then and a problem now, he said, is some merchants using parking spaces on Gallatin.
“The way we curbed it in the ’50s was we put in (parking meters),” he said.
“You’re wanting the city to do something. They (merchants) need to show us that they are willing to help themselves,” Swarm said.
Discussed was the availability of parking in city lots downtown, including the one at city hall and the two at the intersection of Fifth and Johnson streets.
But Rhodes said that they are many people who don’t know that the public can use the city lots.
Gottman said that the city has worked on possibly creating diagonal parking on one side of Sixth Street downtown, and suggested that the city look into also replacing parallel parking with diagonal parking on Fifth Street as well.
That, Gottman said, would be a quicker way to address the parking issue, pointing out that that option would require having the streets engineered for diagonal parking and that money for that is not in the new budget.
Asked if that would be a way of trying to address the parking shortage, Arndt said again, “Anything you can do to help would be appreciated.”
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• Gottman announced that his plan to appoint a new code official had been removed from the agenda, due to the fact that the individual he had planned to appoint had declined the offer earlier in the day.
• A proposal to add boarding kennels to the city’s list of special uses died when none of the aldermen made a motion to adopt such an ordinance.
Beth Cox had taken that proposal to the city’s planning commission, and at its June 28 meeting, commission members voted 4-0 to oppose her request, with one commissioner abstaining.
• The council observed a moment of silence for former merchant Walter Johnson Sr. and “Cap” Haslett, a former St. Elmo mayor, alderman and Fayette County Hospital District Board member.