Downtown far from park avenue
This is the fourth of a four-part series looking at downtown Glenwood Springs and issues local businesses are facing. Part I: Downtown optimism Part II: Businesses in the spotlight Part III: After the Grand Avenue Mall fire Part IV: Puzzled over parking
It’s been more than a year since Cushman King opened a building with three new retail spots at Seventh Street and Grand Avenue. Yet they still remain empty.Doug Harr, the architect who designed the brick and steel structure, has an office there, and the building’s apartments “went immediately,” but not the retail spots, said Russell King, who handles the building’s rental for his brother.”People love the building, the rent’s fine; parking is the biggest issue,” he said.”Parking is murdering downtown Glenwood. It has for decades and nobody ever wants to do anything about it,” said King, an advocate of the long-discussed idea of building a parking garage.”It still has to happen. It only gets more expensive to build down the road. I don’t know why they don’t do it.”In fact, the city last year finally prevailed in a lawsuit over a financing plan for downtown capital improvements (see related story, page A3). The resolution of the case opened the door to consider projects to fund, and city officials assumed a long-desired parking structure would top the list of priorities.But Russell King still may not get his wish. The city’s Downtown Development Authority board members have begun looking more closely at parking structures and are experiencing sticker shock. It turns out that the funding available to the DDA through its so-called tax increment financing mechanism doesn’t look to be enough to do the job.”It’s terrible. The problem is, there’s not that much money there,” said Joe O’Donnell, City Council’s representative on the DDA board.It’s not just a matter of building a garage. As DDA representatives are finding in looking at other cities, such as Grand Junction, parking garages require maintenance, which requires money that’s generally acquired by charging people to park there.But that creates another problem. If on-street parking is free, motorists probably will park there instead.
A solution is to institute paid parking on downtown streets. But that was tried once before in Glenwood Springs, and the parking meters were taken down after mounting opposition.It all begins to paint a dire picture for a town with a downtown parking problem – if, indeed, Glenwood has a problem.”I can always find a place to park downtown. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad sign,” O’Donnell said.It’s potentially bad, said Glenwood resident Tom Fleming, who became familiar with downtown issues while heading up a revitalization effort in Delray Beach, Fla.Generally speaking, “If there’s excess parking that means there’s not enough people coming downtown to shop,” he said.Fleming was speaking during an interview downtown at the Summit Coffee House, and his car was parked right outside.Although he’s not always that lucky, Fleming said he’s never had a problem finding a reasonably convenient parking space. That’s not to say he thinks downtown is in trouble. It comes down more to what people consider to be reasonably convenient.”Generally, parking deficiencies are more a matter of perception than reality,” Fleming said.People often will walk the equivalent of two or three city blocks from a parking spot to spaces within a mall, he said.Dennis Bader, who owns the Flower Mart and is vice president of the Downtown Business Association, said he rarely has to walk more than a half a block when making deliveries downtown. People often have to walk at least that far when shopping at Glenwood Meadows, he said.
“Parking, yeah it certainly could be better (downtown). I think it’s not a great situation but it’s not as bad as people say it is,” Bader said.Bader is frustrated that Garfield County and Colorado Mountain College sued the city over the DDA financing, resulting in a court fight funded on all sides by taxpayers while delaying work on a parking garage.With that court battle behind the city, he said he is confident that it will build a garage fairly soon, although funding limits may push it back a year or so. But he doesn’t want to see those parking in a garage or on city streets have to pay to do so.O’Donnell thinks the city may have to settle for something less for now, such as acquiring some additional downtown land for a simple parking lot. Fellow DDA board members liked that idea in a meeting this week.They also liked city manager Jeff Hecksel’s recommendation that the city have a business plan for a parking garage before building one, to make sure incentives would be in place for people to park there.”Otherwise, it’s like Kevin Costner’s Fields of Dreams. Build it, will they come? I don’t know,” he said.He said the city also may have to partner with a private entity to make a garage financially feasible.DDA board chairman Tony Durrett said it’s important to resolve whether a garage is needed. The hope has been that downtown employees and others who need day-long parking would use the garage, freeing up two-hour spots for downtown visitors.But Fleming said parking experts generally don’t recommend parking garages as one of the first solutions to a downtown parking problem. Rather, he said, they look at things such as using existing inventory effectively – something Glenwood already has begun to do by designating some shorter-term and longer-term parking aimed at customers and employees, respectively.
Another way to maximize the use of available space is to do more parking striping, which Fleming said Glenwood lacks where parallel parking is allowed on downtown streets. Without stripes to indicate parking spots, vehicles waste space by parking farther apart than necessary, he said.Yet another option is pursuing agreements with owners of parking lots to allow shared use of those spaces when the owners don’t need them, Fleming said. If a daytime-oriented business doesn’t need parking at night, it could become available for restaurant patrons or other users.Dwayne Romero, an Aspen resident who recently purchased the Tamarack Building in downtown Glenwood, said he thinks parking problems require a multitude of solutions.”There’s not going to be any ace in the hole, there’s going to a collection of small, incremental improvements.”Spotlight on DowntownThis is the fourth in a four-part series looking at downtown Glenwood Springs and issues local businesses are facing.Wednesday: Downtown optimismThursday: Businesses in the spotlightFriday: After the Grand Avenue Mall fireToday: Puzzled over parking
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