Downtown parking and options to potentially increase or identify available parking downtown were discussed during Sulphur Springs City Council’s regular meeting this week.
Place 2 Council member Jimmy Lucas said he asked that the discussion on downtown parking be placed on the council agenda after being approached by vendors downtown. The business person expressed concern to Lucas that business was being lost due to “drive-away customers.”
“They drive up and they see parking that’s close if full and they’re driving away,” people opting to go elsewhere when parking close to downtown businesses were not readily available.
Lucas said he had no answer for the issue, but agreed to bring it before the council to glean ideas others might have regarding the issue. He said if anyone had ideas on the matter, he’d be willing to hear them.
When asked whether the city owns property near downtown, City Manager Marc Maxwell noted the city does own property on Oak Avenue that previously served as a rest home. It was pointed out there are already plans for that property, to become the site of a new activity center for senior citizens.
Place 5 Council member Jeff Sanderson asked if the city owns the two lots directly behind City Hall. Maxwell noted the city does own the two blocks between Rogers and Mulberry streets.
“It looks like there’s just under two acres, between the two lots, so, around right at 50,000-square foot, give or take. If you do the numbers for a parking lot, you can come up with around $200,000-$250,000, depending on the turnaround and your drives. Is that open to discussion?” Sanderson asked.
Maxwell said based on years of observation and industry studies and research, it is believed that likely wouldn’t resolve the issue.
“The universal cry is that we have to have more parking, and it’s never true. It seems like it’s true. The fact of the matter is we have 1,440 parking spaces within two blocks of the square between the banks and the churches and all of the ins and outs,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said those who visit downtown on Saturday night, would be able to find parking at say First Baptist Church, behind the banks or the county parking lot by the Courthouse Annex building.
“I would suggest to you, we could build more parking, but if they’re not going to walk from those lots, they’re not going to walk from here,” Maxwell told the council.
Maxwell said another issue is that a lot of those parking downtown are owners or employees of business.
“If we could get them to park in one of these more remote parking lot, we’d see an immediate alleviation. It’d be noticable. But, how do you do that? That’s an enforcement nightmare,” Maxwell added.
The city manager said “one of the rules about downtowns is you don’t want to put up no parking or limited parking signs.” Roger Brooks, when he visited and helped the city with branding, told officials they will likely be pushed to establish time limits for parking; he advised against it.
Two-hour only parking sign might have the opposite response than desired from downtown patrons, Maxwell said. For instance two hours would likely not be enough time for someone who’s planning an extended time downtown, perhaps to have a meal and shop, they may seek other locations for their business and time that aren’t so time restrictive to parking, he
Maxwell said he’d hoped that could be self-policed by the Downtown Business Alliance, but they are having no luck getting that done. He said that wasn’t a criticism the DBA, just a fact that it’s the reality; it’s hard to put into place and enforce.
Mayor Pro Tem/Place 1 Council member Erica Armstrong asked if the city could implement some kind of parking tag, similar to those issued to students at say a high school, only to designate employee or owners.
Maxwell said that bring the question of whether a tag could be mandated, and if so, logistics of that would have go be worked out. Also, there could be the argument that an employee could park in the designated public or customer spaces if not at work, to do personal shopping, eat out or take their kids to play in the fountain.
Place 7 Council member John Sellers suggested talking to the business owners again to see if they’d be willing to comply, to help their businesses.
“They’re bringing it to us to solve, so we’ve got to come up with something,” Lucas said.
Kayla Price said signage is something that’s been discussed in the past.
“I’m from Sulphur Springs so I know where the parking is located that you don’t see if you’re on the square, but, if you’re an out-of-towner, you don’t. If you go to McKinney, what do you see everywhere? Additional parking. I really think our simplest solution would be some signage to let the out-of-towners know that they can park at the church or the other lots,” said Price.
Armstrong suggested naming the lots, for example, Lot A, Lot B. Then, in a couple of different location show where the additional parking lots are located.
Maxwell said to consider with that was how that would work to reflect the different hours the owners of the different lots are open, or when they are available to the general public. For instance, churches use their parking areas at different times. Digital signs have been mentioned, Maxwell said.
The city manager said the city bought some cones and has utilized them at various parking lots during days special events or activities are being held downtown, pointing to available parking areas. He said he’s not sure how effective those are, but it’s been done.
“I keep looking for a simple beautiful answer, and I’m at a loss too,” Maxwell said.
Sellers pointed out that after 5 p.m. the county lots are usually available.
“I know the perception is that’s way, but it’s probably not any farther than from back of Walmart from those lots. That might be a good place mark for additional parking because that’s a good size of lots that do not get used, even from 8 to 5. I walk down there and they’re practically empty, unless it’s a jury day,” Sellers said.
Resident Taylor Cross said to look at it another way. He said it’s like going to Walmart. You want one of those front spots, but since you’re already there, you tough it out and go in anyway.
“We’ve brought up some really good points about maybe asking the employees to park other places. I see it too. I love going too. I see it. There are some private parking lots. Maybe some of the owners could be asked if, after hours they would mind if the people could use their parking spaces,” Cross said.
Barbara Williams said she agrees that signs are needed downtown.
“I’ve lived in Sulphur Springs less than two years. I didn’t know you could park at the churches. I didn’t know you could park at some of these places. I love to be downtown. I’m downtown as often as I can be. But if you don’t put signs up and make people feel like they are welcome. They are going to go elsewhere,” Williams said.
Morgan Standbridge said parking is a topic often discussed. He said his thought would be a bit more aggressive.
“Marc, I think you showed your desperation to not be able to move or change the behavior of the owners and employees who continue to park and occupy a lot of parking spots and spaces we wish you had more of. Personally, where I know the owner of that business, I don’t do business in that business. I’m not going to do business where they feel that parking space is more important to them than to their customer. I think if there’s awareness to that affect then that might help change some of that behavior,” Standbridge said.
“Maybe, and I can see you’re point, but as a city I don’t think we want to be in the business of saying don’t shop there,” Maxwell said.