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Officials have parking space hogs in their sights

Signs posted along Third Street display the ordinances for parking downtown, including the notice that people working downtown should not park on the street between 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Signs posted along Third Street display the ordinances for parking downtown, including the notice that people working downtown should not park on the street between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. wmarshall@macon.com

Downtown Macon has experienced major growth in recent years, but one problem persists: not enough convenient parking spaces for people who are shopping and dining there.

In the next couple of weeks, the Macon-Bibb County Commission could decide to let the Urban Development Authority develop a plan to improve parking in the city’s business and entertainment district. The plan would include ways to better enforce parking regulations and encourage the use of parking garages and lots by downtown employees and residents.

It’s possible that parking meters could be an early part of the plan.

A “vibrant retail environment” usually has a turnover rate of seven cars a day that use the same downtown parking spot. In Macon, that average is two, since people who work and live there are using many on-street parking spaces for lengthy stretches, NewTown Macon President Josh Rogers said.

“The bottom line for parking in downtown Macon is we are not matching the most convenient spaces with the people who need them,” he said. “People coming down to eat or shop or pop into a meeting, those are the people that need spaces on the street.

“Right now since (street parking is) free and not enforced, some people go to their offices and work all day, but it’s not available to people who want to dine and shop.”

The development authority’s parking resolution is scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting. According to NewTown, there are about 1,200 on-street parking spaces and another 4,600 off-street parking spots around downtown. At peak hours, about 35 percent of the street parking is vacant, as is about half the off-street parking spots, such as parking lots.

“The demand for these spaces often far exceeds the actual supply, and this competition leads to people repeatedly circling around the block looking for a space or getting frustrated and choosing to go elsewhere,” according to a resolution.

“We have the studies going back to 1998, and every period says the same thing, which is we need to manage parking better,” Rogers said.“To get to the next level of revitalization, we have to make that change. We have to prioritize tourists, vendors and shoppers.”

The parking problem has flared up periodically for decades. The former Macon City Council passed an ordinance in 1988 that a judge later ruled was too vague. In 1992, the state Supreme Court upheld a retooled law that mapped out streets where downtown parking by employees was banned.

The problem is actually the other part of success of having a flourishing downtown, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.

“We may have a developer that says we’ll come, but we will need parking available, which could be a parking deck,” he said. “We want to identify strategies downtown for making it more conducive” for everyone.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph

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