Proposed downtown parking deck favored Westminster retailers, office managers surveyed

November 12, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Westminster business owners overwhelmingly favor building a third downtown parking facility to ease parking woes, according to a survey by Greater Westminster Development Corp.

Among the 44 retail merchants and office managers surveyed, four of five said parking is inadequate, and 93 percent said they would use a one-level parking deck at the Longwell lot, between City Hall and the rear of businesses on East Main Street.

For the survey, the nonprofit business group conducted personal interviews at 23 retail businesses and 21 offices. No count of the total number of retailers and offices downtown is available, but R. Douglas Mathias, corporation executive director, said 44 represents "a pretty good number."

Three-fourths of the retailers and slightly more than three-fourths of the office managers said they would hire additional employees if more parking space were available.

"We were asking, 'If there were more parking, would you increase employee numbers?' and we were getting positive feedback, because the perception of parking is that it's not adequate now," Mathias said.

Two other projects

Demolition began last summer to prepare for a 204-space parking garage at the long-vacant Farmers Supply Co. property downtown. The garage is part of a multimillion-dollar project of the city and Carroll County Bank & Trust Co. Also, plans are in the works for a parking lot off Railroad Avenue that could add 70 spaces to downtown parking.

Some evidence suggests that businesses perceive parking problems as more serious than they are.

According to Westminster police, fewer downtown workers are buying $20 monthly permits to park on the Longwell lot. The closing of the Westminster post office and the move by Westminster Fire and Hose Company No. 1 freed about 60 parking permits formerly used by postal workers and firefighters, police Chief Sam R. Leppo said.

He said the city sold 148 parking permits this year, compared with 192 last year.

Leppo hopes to have data within a week from a count of vacant parking spaces on the Longwell lot.

A consensus favoring construction of the Longwell parking deck is emerging among the Common Council.

A consultant recommended in April that if the city undertakes the $1.5 million project, the facility should be built on the Longwell lot. The deck would add about 70 spaces to the 294-space lot.

Councilmen prepared

Councilmen L. Gregory Pecoraro and Damian L. Halstad are ready to move ahead with plans for a parking deck.

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. does not oppose the deck, but wants to see an assessment of the impact of the planned parking garage, and the planned parking lot off Railroad Avenue. "If the need is there and it would help the businesses flourish, I'd be for it," Chapin said. "Don't think I'm saying absolutely 'no,' but prove it to me."

Pecoraro said he doesn't want to wait until the Longwell lot is filled.

"We have to balance the prospective need against the current need. What I don't want us to get ourselves into is a lot of people downtown and we say, 'Gee, the parking lots are full. We need to build a parking deck,' because then you have to displace people," he said.

Halstad said the $1.5 million cost justifies caution, but he believes it's time to move ahead.

"Over the past five years, we've seen an increased presence downtown and a number of successes" in redevelopment of existing buildings or sites, he said.

Council members have discussed building a parking deck for several years, and first listed it as a possible capital improvement project in 1996. The city might provide design financing for the Longwell deck in 1999-2000, with construction financing the next year.

Council members agree that inadequate parking is a pleasant complaint to hear, because it indicates that more people are downtown working, shopping and dining.

Pub Date: 11/12/98

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