Loss of Main Street parking spaces worries some downtown merchants
The public hearings have been held, the votes have been taken and the Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority is forging ahead with plans to renovate Main Street.
But for the majority of property owners and merchants in the 400 block of Main Street, deep-seated concerns linger over the elimination of more than half of the parking in their block.
The Main Street Uplift, a two-phase project that could cost upward of $9 million when it’s completed in 2011, is aimed at repairing crumbling infrastructure, replacing dead or dying trees and adding amenities on Main between First and Seventh streets.
Most businesses appear to support the project concept pitched by the DDA — improving the downtown shopping park that serves as the retail and cultural hub of the city and is one of the top tourist destinations in the Grand Valley. But one element in particular is giving retail owners and managers heartburn.
The DDA will reduce the number of parking spots in the 400 block of Main from 19 to eight. The organization plans to fill the space left behind with a play area, shade shelter, pavilion and other features aimed at drawing more pedestrians.
But merchants — particularly those whose customers pop in and out and don’t linger downtown — say they fear they’ll face frustrated clients or lose business because fewer people will be able to park right in front of their stores.
City Councilman and Brown’s Shoe Fit Co. owner Gregg Palmer said he believes the project is a mistaken attempt to move downtown from a retail area to an entertainment area.
“Retail is fragile, and if we don’t protect the retail, there will be nothing to come downtown to because all the businesses will have gone out,” said Palmer, who was out of town on business last month when the council approved the project design but said he would have voted against it had he been present. His store is at 425 Main St.
“I would never seek to go back and revisit the decision. But I’m disappointed that the will of the merchants whose entire livelihood is invested in this street wasn’t considered in more depth by the DDA and the City Council.”
The four employees answering phones and meeting with travelers Monday inside First Class Travel, 435 Main St., were unanimous in their disapproval of the reduction in parking.
Owner Vonnie Hicks said her customers, many of whom are older, usually come into the travel agency for just a few minutes to pick up tickets or documents and appreciate the convenience of parking just a few feet outside her front door.
Parking on Main Street “has always been a problem down here. This is just going to make it worse,” she said.
Hicks said she’s also worried that motorists pushed off Main Street will move south into the large lot in the 400 block of Colorado Avenue and take up the 10-hour metered spots for which she and her staff purchased annual parking passes.
Mancel Page, co-owner of Page-Parsons Jewelers, 444 Main St., said he believes the City Council and DDA ignored the wishes of Main Street businesses.
Nearly 40 business and land owners on Main Street signed a petition asking the city to retain the current number of parking spots on the street. Of 17 400-block businesses contacted, 11 opposed any loss in parking.
“My argument is these are the most-used parking spaces in the city and we need all of them we can have,” Page said.
DDA Executive Director Heidi Hoffman Ham said merchants’ worries are overblown and that the authority’s decision to remove some spots in the 400 block is based not just on feedback from merchants but from the community at large.
“What we heard from the community was we want more pedestrian space,” she said.
“People aren’t just there to pull up, walk into one shop, make a purchase and leave. We want them to stay, have dinner, look in the window of a shop they’ve never been inside.”
Ham said the 400 block of Main is suited better for a change in parking than any other block, noting the Rood Avenue parking garage that links to Main Street via a new breezeway and the lot in the 400 block of Colorado. She said the Downtown Uplift, when it’s combined with the parking garage and other recent downtown projects, will actually add about 100 public parking spots.
She’s hopeful that once construction at the west end of Main Street begins next year, “people will have a better understanding of what we’re talking about and the fear factor will subside.”
Main Street pedestrians and motorists appear to have mixed reactions to the loss of parking in the 400 block.
Grand Junction resident Jeannette Finlayson, who was downtown Monday with her daughter, said fewer parking spaces in that block “would be a little bit of a hassle.”
On the other hand, Anna Younger and Tyge Larson, both 19, said they didn’t have a problem with it as long as other spots are available downtown. In fact, they said it would encourage more people to get out and walk on Main Street.