Here we go again, folks.
In less than two weeks, the Augusta Commission will revisit a proposal for parking meters in the downtown area.
It is one of those issues that stirs deep emotions within most citizens.
Many people absolutely hate the idea, insisting it will be the death of downtown Augusta.
In fact, some members of the Downtown Development Authority were actually spit on the last time the group presented a parking proposal to the city.
People feel that strongly about it.
But study after study of the downtown area have stated that the lack of parking management will eventually begin to strangle future downtown development if the situation is not addressed.
Many business owners, especially along the 900 block of Broad Street, find available parking between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. particularly problematic.
The area has even been nicknamed “the blockade” because of the lack of parking.
For years, DDA has proposed a plan to install an unobtrusive, state-of-the-art system of paid on-street parking in the Broad Street corridor, which is generally defined as the areas between Fifth Street to 13th Street bounded by Reynolds Street to the north and Ellis Street to the south.
But it seems like every other year the topic is brought up, tossed about and then disposed of each and every time.
This year might be a little different.
There is a new crusader for downtown parking that may surprise a few folks: Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams.
Yes, Augusta. “Crazy” Marion Williams, who is the commission’s representative on the DDA, is 100 percent behind the installation of downtown parking meters in order to ensure the future progress of downtown Augusta.
How ‘bout them apples?
Major developers in the downtown area may finally gets their prized parking meters thanks to Williams and his newfound political influence on the Augusta Commission.
During this week’s public safety committee meeting, Williams insisted that it was time for the Augusta Commission to get serious about parking meters.
“The downtown parking issue has been a big problem for a while,” he told his colleagues on Sept. 29. “When I traveled a couple of weeks ago to Columbia, S.C., and went downtown, they are using parking meters but after 6 p.m. parking is free.”
With a parking study already completed, Williams said the city needed to move forward in preventing people from parking in one spot all day long.
“If people come downtown, they ought to be able to park here and then shop and then move on,” Williams said, adding that the DDA’s proposal would have a private company install the meters and it wouldn’t be any cost to the city. “Our downtown is growing fast. In the afternoons, you go downtown, you really can’t find a parking space. In the daytime, people are leaving their cars because there is no deterrent.”
It is time for Augusta to start thinking like larger cities such as Savannah, Charleston and Columbia, Williams said.
“We have been talking about it and talking about it,” he said. “It is not going to make everybody happy, I understand that, but we have to do what is best for this community and this city because we are growing, like it or not.”
Williams was so enthusiastic about the proposal, he wanted to push commissioners to vote on the parking meter plan next week without even fully hearing all the details of the plan.
Suddenly, commissioners Bill Fennoy and Ben Hasan insisted Williams slow down or risk infuriating some people in the downtown area.
Interim Deputy Director Steve Cassel agreed, saying that commissioners should get as much information about the parking proposal as possible before approving it.
“Given the complexity of the issue and the amount of attention it will get, I think the more informed the commission could be on this subject would be most desirable,” Cassell said. “Because you are going to get calls about this.”
That’s an understatement.
Commissioners’ phones will be ringing off the hook with people on both sides of the argument pleading their cases.
This could get very interesting.
Folks, keep a close eye on this particular issue.
If Williams is able to push the parking proposal through and get it approved by the commission in October, he will achieve what many people in Augusta truly believed was the impossible.
It will be saying volumes about Williams’ political power in his new role as the Godfather of the Garden City.