Insider: The never-ending downtown parking debate

Insider: The never-ending downtown parking debate

Here we go again, Augusta.

Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard announced this week that she will bring a proposal for parking meters in the downtown area back before the Augusta Commission this summer.

Talk about beating a dead horse.

It seems like every other year this topic is brought up, tossed about and then disposed of each and every time. Let everyone stop and think for a moment: Didn’t the city just build a $12 million parking garage across from the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center on Reynolds Street? A $12 million parking garage that sits empty about 90 percent of the time.

Does the city encourage folks to utilize the parking deck when visiting downtown?

Absolutely not.

There are no visible signs on Broad Street directing traffic to the parking deck. Most people forget it is an option.

And don’t even say that Reynolds Street is too far to walk to Broad Street. If that’s the case, no one from Augusta should ever visit cities such as Savannah, Charleston, Athens, Atlanta, Charlotte, Asheville, etc., etc., etc.

Augustans might be accustomed to parking right in front of their favorite restaurants, bars or shops, but it’s time this city grows a pair of… legs and learns to walk.

Isn’t walking better than parking meters?

The last big push for parking meters downtown came back in 2010, when Woodard proposed the DDA meter 1,000 parking spaces at a cost of $1 an hour, with a two-hour limit for curbside parking and a four-hour limit for the median lots.

In the proposal, the “Broad Street Corridor” extended from Fifth Street to 13th along Broad and from Reynolds to Ellis along the side streets. Many downtown businesses were immediately up in arms. Several voiced concerns that if the parking meter plan backfired, all of the growth that Broad Street has achieved over the past few decades would vanish into thin air.

It could happen.

Just ask business owners that were downtown back when Augusta Mall and Regency Mall opened in the late 1970s. Many now joke that you could shoot a cannon ball down the middle of Broad Street and not worry about hitting anyone.

Before Woodard proposes the parking meter idea again, maybe she should also consider this: All of the surrounding cities and counties, including Aiken, North Augusta and Columbia County do not have parking meters.

Have you been to downtown Aiken lately? It is absolutely adorable and growing by the second.

North Augusta is also convenient and driver friendly. North Augusta is also just two minutes from downtown Augusta. So, if Augusta installs parking meters, little shops and restaurants looking to move into the area may suddenly find North Augusta much more appealing.

People are loving North Augusta these days. North Augusta has the beautiful Greeneway, while downtown Augusta has the deteriorating Riverwalk.

North Augusta has Hammond’s Ferry and the River Golf Club, while downtown Augusta has a vacant Fort Discovery. North Augusta is clean and has very little crime, while downtown Augusta is suffering from break-ins of local businesses, not to mention a growing reputation that the Riverwalk is becoming unsafe.

Add all of this up and it could spell disaster for Augusta if parking meters are installed.

Will parking meters keep out the “riff raff” from downtown? Much of the “riff raff” walk to the downtown area, so parking is not an issue for them.

And, so, how many years has this debate been going on?

Remember way back in April 2005, when former DDA Executive Director Chris Naylor presented a study of the city’s downtown parking that claimed Augusta was headed for a “parking crisis.”

The $52,000 report revealed that the two-hour parking limits along the downtown streets are not enforced.

Big surprise there. No one ever pays parking tickets downtown.

By bringing back parking meters, Naylor tried to convince Augusta that it would put more money in the city’s pocket which could be used to help beautify downtown. Apparently, Woodard is using the same argument.

Perhaps she should remember what happened to good ol’ Naylor after his parking meter proposal.

By June of 2005, the DDA and Main Street Augusta asked Naylor to resign from his position after four years serving both organizations.

At the time Naylor resigned, he was earning about $54,200 a year. As of last year, Woodard’s salary was a whopping $85,000 a year.

Yes, $85,000 a year.

Couldn’t $85,000 a year go a long way towards beautifying downtown?

Augusta may want to consider putting that money to better use.

Let’s hear what you think!

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