‘The biggest issue is parking’: Businesses express concern over future of Mill Street
Mill St. closure advances but parking contentious
The possibility of Mill Street’s permanent closure to vehicular traffic strode forward as last week’s solicitation of public comment concluded.
Placards on Mill Street allowed people to leave written comments with their thoughts. They could also visit the city’s website, scan a web address with their mobile devices and met staff to give their opinions about what they’d like to see, said City Manager Tim Kiser.
The effort not only asked if Mill Street should be converted to a pedestrian plaza, but what specifically people would like to see.
Currently Mill Street is closed from Main Street to Neal Street, which is where the pedestrian plaza will be developed if a permanent vehicle closure is approved.
“The preliminary numbers are a little higher in favor of closure than previously (sampled),” said Kiser. “But we’ve not tallied all the different modes of survey questions.”
Kiser said the city has contracted with Atlas Lab to study the issues and come up with three concepts to present to the City Council. Those options will be presented this month or next. A final concept is anticipated 30 days later.
An initial estimate made in the spring was $4 million for the total project. Also, costs of $50,000 to $100,000 annually will be needed to cover events and clean up.
Kiser said the expense could be considerably lower depending on the direction council takes.
At this point start of construction of a pedestrian plaza, if approved, is yet to be determined.
“We’re looking at all the options people expressed preference for in the surveys,” said Kiser. “I’d like to keep the process moving, so the community knows what the end result will be.”
Not everybody is content with the prospect of closure. Penny Short is owner of Tess’ Kitchen and Culinary Store, which holds 8,000 square feet of kitchenware and home economic accents. Short bought the business in January 2020, but was required to close it that March because of the pandemic. It reopened in May.
“We’re likely to see business equal to or slightly down to last summer due to people traveling,” she said. “Last year you couldn’t go anywhere. Now everybody’s getting families out on vacation. But a decline would be mostly because of the road closure itself, and we’ve had payroll increases because employees must take time to help customers with packages out to their cars.”
Some customer purchases can weigh substantial amounts — from microwaves to dutch ovens, food processors to ice cream makers. And because of the closure many customers’ cars are parked blocks away, with many using the South Auburn Street lot that’s down a steep hill, Short said.
“We continue to appreciate the community’s support. They love to come in,” said Short. “It’s a divided situation — some love closure and some don’t.”
A Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce survey in April noted that out of 1,406 responses, 75% were in favor of closure. However, Short said many of those respondents are not invested in the actual day-to-day neighborhood commerce.
Chris and Susan Escano are co-owners of Vintage on Mill, which sells upscale clothing, furniture, lamps, clocks and accessories. Since parking has always been problem in downtown, Chris Escano said he would like to see the city focus first on parking. However, he said it’s putting a priority on beautification.
Street closure took away 40-plus parking spaces, Chris Escano said. Though the city did rework the entrance and exits to Neal Street, which added seven parking spaces, that did not make up for the many lost.
Merchants have made several recommendations, but the city has turned a deaf ear, he added. The first is to build a single-story parking structure on Neal and Church streets. The second is to open up Mill Street to one-way traffic, which would replace half of the lost parking spaces.
David Williams, owner of Williams Stationary on Main Street, is opposed to closure.
“The biggest issue is parking, we don’t have enough of it,” he said. “But also, some merchants are abusing parking by parking in front of their own store for hours. Anybody needs to park to drop off packages for 10 minutes. But parking should be a priority for their customers.
Robin Davies, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said her organization is impartial on the issue.
“The chamber does not take a pro or con position on the project. We remain neutral,” said Davies. “We act as a support agency, working with both the city of Grass Valley and the Grass Valley Downtown Association to assist their efforts as needed and as a conduit for information regarding the project.””
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com
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