Johnson City commissioners voted Thursday on two measures, one that included a land swap with a local church, to increase public parking opportunities in the downtown district.
The First Presbyterian Church agreed to trade the lot beside Adams Auto Sales and the lot in front of Wild Wing Cafe, at the corner of Commerce Street and Wilson Avenue, in exchange for city-owned property at 133 W. Main St., the former location of the Johnson City Furniture Co.
In a separate transaction, city commissioners also voted to buy the parking lot and small building at 201 W. Main St., directly across from the Johnson City Press building, for $40,000. The Johnson City Development Authority plans to reimburse the city for the entire cost.
"The plan is to combine the church lot when we get it with this lot (and) tear down the building (at 201 W. Main St.) and create a new public parking lot there. That will net about 50 new or additional parking spaces in the downtown area beyond what is currently in existence,” City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners.
That land, owned by Charles and Jennifer Cottingham and Marianne Marshall, was appraised for $63,600, according to the City Commission agenda. Vice Mayor Jenny Brock said she remembers a used car lot being located there.
“I'd just like to emphasize that the JCDA is providing monies to do this, and that says a little bit about their commitment to the downtown area (and) to their understanding that parking continues to be an issue and probably will be in the future, as well,” Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, a current JCDA member, told commissioners before the vote.
“To me, particularly with their support in this endeavor to go ahead and proceed with this and have the additional parking downtown, is very valuable.”
Dianna Cantler, downtown development director and JCDA staff liaison, said city officials have talked about acquiring the land from the church for a couple of years.
“They have been very nice to let the public use that lot on Wilson and Commerce, but it was sort of time to make it official, clean it up a bit and stripe it so it will be more efficient,” Cantler said.
It will be up to the City Commission to determine whether the new lot will be used for all-day parking or two-hour parking, Cantler said.
A 2015 parking analysis found a total of 1,220 parking spaces within the downtown study area, and of that total, 665 were located in public parking lots. Just over 550 spaces were on-street parking. Since that study, parking in downtown has increased to over 1,318 spaces with the opening of King Commons Park and other enhancements.
Cantler said the parking situation in downtown could be further be improved if more people used the parking garage on weekends.
“We see people using the parking garage during festival weekends, but if we could get people used to parking in the parking garage on the weekends, that would really make a big impact,” Cantler said.
“It's just a matter of educating the community that the parking garage is open on the weekends, and then getting people used to the mindset that a parking garage is a safe and convenient place to park downtown.”
Cantler said the parking garage is free to use during weekends, and it’s regularly patrolled by the Johnson City Police Department.
Depending on the Johnson City Public Works Department’s schedule, the new parking lots could be striped and graded within the next four months.