City drives toward improved downtown parking
Senior Staff Writer
Downtown Grass Valley’s pressing lack of parking is being addressed for the short-term, but long-term solutions are a ways off.
And when they come, will residents be willing to pay?
A city-funded study concludes that, in the short run, the city needs to buy or lease some of the 900 private downtown spots to gain parking quickly and retain the downtown district’s retail customers.
The long-term answer, the study said, is a parking garage.
Until then, “the emphasis is to focus on ground parking opportunities other than a parking structure,” said Joe Heckel, the city’s director of Community Development.
That could come by switching portions of public lots to private use, or by the purchase or lease of space, he said. City officials also are talking with private downtown landowners about converting their properties to parking areas.
Grass Valley Downtown Association Executive Director Howard Levine has been talking with merchants about gaining spots, and talked to two about switching their private lots to public use.
“We’re hoping to pick up 20 to 25 spots,” Levine said Wednesday. “We got 11 last year by restriping,” but in total, that is only about 10 percent of the 300 new spaces the study recommends for downtown.
The 300 existing public spots often are filled during peak hours during the week, the study found. About 135 of them are snapped up by people who buy parking permits for $50 per quarter, but the others are free and generate no revenue for the city.
One way to gain more spots would be for private lot owners to free some up for more permit parking, according to the study.
Parking garage: $8.8 million
The late 2007 study, from TJKM Transportation Consultants of Northern California, also recommends a parking garage downtown at the corner of South Auburn and Neal streets for the long term.
The study also notes that several buildings on the property would have to be purchased and razed. It estimates the construction cost alone for a 31Ú2-story parking structure at $8.8 million. That money could be hard to find in the next few years for a city now struggling to balance its budget in a tough economy.
Funding for a parking garage was defeated along with several other transportation-related projects in a 2006 attempt to pass a sales tax in Grass Valley.
But some downtown merchants see a parking garage as the best long-term answer.
“It could be open-air and done in a historical way,” said Lori Somers, owner of the glass shop Athena at West Main and Mill streets. “They’ve done it in Petaluma and Old Sacramento. You could have people pay to go in and then have someone patrol it.”
Downtown association board member Brad Blair is also owner of the candy store Confectionately Yours on Mill Street. He believes in the short-term efforts to gain parking spots, but added, “The ideal situation will be in a parking garage downtown. It could attract business. One of the biggest complaints I have from shoppers is there isn’t enough parking downtown.”
The city’s 85 percent occupancy rate in public parking spots is daunting, Blair said, and makes him wonder, “How many people drive around downtown looking for a space, can’t find one and then leave?”
Parking meters might help a revenue situation, Blair said, but wasn’t sure they would make much difference in the long run.
Vice mayor and downtown merchant Lisa Swarthout recently said at a City Council meeting that her customers and acquaintances are evenly split on paying to park downtown.
Mark Hereford is a downtown association board member and owner of the gift shop Heart and Home on Mill Street. Hereford is against parking meters in the downtown area, but he knows the economic times might call for them.
“I hate the idea. It would lose some of the ambiance we have downtown, but other historic downtowns have them,” Hereford said. “With the way revenue is going for small towns, we have to look at all areas.
The study also suggested an area for store owners and their employees to park in smaller parking areas on the downtown periphery.
“If there were an employee and store owner parking lot within a block of downtown, it could be used and we wouldn’t lose any customer parking,” Hereford said.
“We need a parking garage eventually, maybe not in six months, but five to 10 years down the road,” Hereford said.
The study also suggested time limits of less than three hours for free parking spots, including at the City Hall parking lot at South Auburn and Main streets, the public lot at Richardson and Auburn streets and the public lot at South Church and Neal streets.
To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4237.
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