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City officials, residents talk downtown parking

Madison Mathews • Feb 28, 2013 at 10:23 PM

“Who would’ve ever thought that something like parking would be so popular?”

That was the question Washington County Economic Development Council Director of Redevelopment Shannon Castillo asked a crowd of eager people Thursday night who were ready to discuss what needs to be done to address parking issues as downtown Johnson City continues to grow.

“This is an opportunity. If downtown was failing we wouldn’t be talking about parking because there’d be plenty of it and no one would want to be parking here,” she said.

About 50 people gathered in the fourth floor of the King’s Centre for the downtown parking forum, which was hosted by the Economic Development Council.

The group consisted of downtown residents, merchants, building owners, developers, city staff, law enforcement and representatives from Northeast State Community College.

Castillo said the goal of the meeting was to have everyone come together to come up with solutions — both short- and long-term — to the parking issue in the downtown area.

“I really hope tonight that we come up with some practical solutions short term that we can start implementing immediately and then I hope we can come up with some long-term solutions of the needs that we’ll need with parking five years from now,” she said.

The attendees were divided into groups who spent about 30 minutes discussing potential solutions to the parking problems downtown, such as under-utilized parking lots, overcrowded lots, lack of traffic enforcement and safety concerns.

Solutions offered by each group were varied but always came back to the same themes: adding more parking in the downtown area, making the downtown area safer for pedestrian traffic, and stepping up parking enforcement and police presence.

Some of the solutions included:

- Adding more loading zones.

- Building a new parking garage and/or pedestrian bridge from the Cherry Street lot.

- Adding bike lanes.

- Acquiring more parking areas around the downtown area.

- Enforcing parking laws, such as the two-hour limit in the Downtown Square lot.

- Installing parking meters.

- Initiating permit parking programs for businesses and residents.

All of the information that was presented Thursday night will be compiled by the Economic Development Council and the city.

Angie Carrier, development services director for the city, said having input from the people who work and live in the downtown area is an integral part of revitalization as the city continues its efforts in bettering the infrastructure.

“I think it’s essential that we parallel all of these issues together because when we come out at the end, we’re all working together and we’ve addressed the majority of the issues downtown and it provides an arena for the downtown business owners, residents and the new people that we’re trying to recruit into these buildings that aren’t there. It gives them an opportunity to succeed,” she said.

Castillo said a follow-up meeting will be held in the coming months after she meets with city staff.

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