Business owners object to parking proposition

Kay White believes that something needs to be done to fix parking issues in downtown Augusta but says meters aren't the solution.

 

The front of her store, Whitehouse Antiques on Broad Street, is clogged with cars belonging to neighboring business owners and loft-apartment residents.

Parking meters would chase them away and open more places for her patrons to park, but she's concerned they might also chase away the customers.

In December, the Downtown Development Authority board approved a proposal to implement a parking-management system that includes metering 1,000 parking spaces in eight blocks of Broad Street and some side streets. The recommendation must still pass the Augusta Commission.

The proposal involves charging $1 an hour for parking between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and boosting the fines for violators.

"I don't think we need that now," Ms. White said. "We're still struggling. We've still got a ways to go to be a viable downtown area to draw people into this town."

She is not alone in her opposition to the authority's parking-meter proposal.

Of 104 businesses and agencies polled by The Augusta Chronicle , only one was in favor of the meters -- along with a few undecided businesses that were favorable to the concept but not the current plan.

Eighty-eight of the surveyed Broad Street corridor businesses -- 85 percent -- said they did not favor parking meters.

"We don't want to put deterrents in front of people," said Jeff Gorelick, who runs Ruben's department store.

Mr. Gorelick said Walmart is 2.4 miles away in North Augusta. He asked why people would pay to shop downtown when there is free parking so close.

Development authority Executive Director Margaret Woodard sees a discrepancy in the argument of opponents.

"They think it is OK to take up those spaces with residents and their own employees and then not have any place for the consumer to park," she said.

The authority believes that freeing up parking space for customers and creating a constant turnover with the time limits will allow more downtown shoppers to visit stores. Ms. Woodard said people cruise around the block twice, can't find a spot to park, and then leave downtown.

Ms. Woodard said that she is not surprised by the results of the poll and that she considers it to be an initial knee-jerk reaction. There haven't been parking meters on Broad Street for 31 years, so this would be a dramatic change for businesses and patrons.

"Of course, it isn't popular because they're going to have to park somewhere else. Everybody is getting on the negative bandwagon, and it is going to take time," she said.

The authority is not going to take the parking-management plan to the Augusta Commission this month as originally planned, she said, so that it can spend more time on the concerns expressed to them.

"The biggest concern expressed is, where are we going to park? Will it be safe? Will it be well lit?" Ms. Woodard said. "We're homing in on some of the concerns."

The authority is going to make a block-by-block study of off-Broad Street parking in an effort to find places for residents and workers.

Dee Bruker, of insurance company Sanford, Bruker & Banks Inc., said there might eventually be a need for meters after the TEE Center and Hyatt hotel are built.

The only difficult time in finding a parking place, he said, is during lunchtime.

"If we had the high-end retail shops and the foot traffic like they have on King Street in Charleston (S.C.), I would support parking meters," he said. "Hopefully, one day Broad Street will have a Starbucks and a Lacoste and a Williams-Sonoma and a Talbots and so on. I support Margaret Woodard and am appreciative of all that she has done to help downtown. I think she is jumping the gun on this one, though."

Michele Hattman, who owns Costumes by Michele, said she's lucky that her store is considered a destination place, being one of the few costume shops in town. Although she is against the meters, she believes that patrons will continue to see her and pay the parking meter.

"They will shop and then leave," Ms. Hattman said.

Parking meters will hurt the downtown economy, she said, because shoppers will be conscious of the time limits and won't visit neighboring stores.

Parking is currently free, with a two-hour time limit, though tickets are rarely issued -- and the fines are not enforced. There haven't been parking meters on Broad Street since 1978.

Among the businesses that oppose the return of the meters is Casella Eye Center.

"We are Medcaid providers. We see a lot of people who don't have a lot of resources," Dr. Tom Casella said. "They come down here to get their eye care. Why should they pay $1 to go to the eye doctor?"

Sho Ane, the owner of ShoAne Design Studio, threatened to move her bridal store to Columbia County if meters are installed.

"We work so hard to build up downtown, and now they kill our business with the meters?" she said. "I'm not going to let my business die because of the meter."

Even one of the original champions of parking meters, Carless Gay, at Cloud Nine Natural, has tweaked his opinion of the proposal.

"For me, I think it would be great," he said. "but I don't want it if it's going to hurt my neighbors."

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

THE SURVEY

The Augusta Chronicle approached businesses on Broad Street and asked whether they were in favor of the Downtown Development Authority's parking meter proposal. Not every owner/manager could be found, but here are the results from those who chose to participate:

BETWEEN FIFTH AND SIXTH STREETS

Artistic Perceptions Inc.: No

GA-Carolina Restaurant Supply: No

Sidney's Department Store: No

Downtown Pawn Shop: No

Sports Center Billiards: No opinion

Riverfront Pub: No opinion

BETWEEN SIXTH AND SEVENTH STREETS

Ramada Inn: No

BETWEEN SEVENTH AND EIGHTH STREETS

The Augusta Chronicle: Undecided

Coffee Break: No

Joe's Underground Cafe: No

Rock Bottom Music Center: No

Casella Eye Center: No

BETWEEN EIGHTH AND NINTH STREETS

Discount Fashions: No

New Bell Discount Beauty Supply: No

Covington Credit: No

Studio Velocity: No

Pyramid Music & Video: No

Once Again Thrift Store: No

Keep it Tight Barber Store: No

Caribbean Soul Restaurant: Undecided

Career Personnel & Temps Services: Undecided

Bigg Folks: No

Silla Cafe: No

ESi: No

PVC Music: No

Broad Street Signs and Graphics: No

Richmond County Board of Education: Undecided

BETWEEN NINTH AND 10TH STREETS

Blue Sky: No

Schweitzer Art: No

Nacho Mama's: No

Crosby's Women's Apparel: No

Nan's Collections: No

Sherzer Insurance Agency: No

David's Menswear: No

Casablanca Cafe: No

Fuji Wigs: No

Ruben's: No

Brigand's Land of Enchantment and Pops: No

Lion of Judah Culture Shop: No

Gunslingers Tattoo Parlor: No

Classic Impressions Photography: No

Rhodes Variety Shop: No

Television station WAGT: No

University Health: No

Guarantee Finance: No

Perry & Co. Salon: No

Sanford, Bruker & Banks: No

Still Water Tap Room: No

The Soul Bar: No

BETWEEN 10TH AND 11TH STREETS

R.W. Allen: Undecided

Service Loan Co.: No

Apex Financial: No opinion

Metro A Coffeehouse: No

Wicked Wasabi: No

Flowers Xpress: Undecided

United Loan & Estate Jewelry: No

Cloud Nine Natural: No

Garden City Organics: No

T-Boys PoBoys: No

Art on Broad Inc.: No

The Book Tavern: No

Midtown Threds: No

Modish Salon and Spa: No

Gallery on the Row: Undecided

Our Shop: No

Whitehouse Antiques: No

New York Hi Styles: No

Zimmerman Gallery: No

New Moon Cafe: No

BETWEEN 11TH AND 12TH STREETS

Americana Tattoo: Undecided

Jimmy Williams Signs: No

The Broad Street Bazaar: No

Shoppe 31:30: No

Halo Salon and Spa: No

Johannsen Sporting Goods: No

1102 Downtown Bar & Grill: No

Vintage Oollee: No

Eldvets Treasures: No

The Window Gallery: No

ShoAne Design Studio: No

La Dolce Vita Salon: No

Colonial Finance: No

Silver City: No

Mellow Mushroom: No

BETWEEN 12TH AND 13TH STREETS

Sunshine Bakery: No opinion

Mastercare Car Service: No

Pizza Joint: No

Digital Blueprint: No

Joe's Crab Shack: No

Cali Nails: No

Augusta Cash Advance: No

JLA Engineers, Designers and Consultant: No

Whitehead Heating & Air: No

Critical Solutions Medical Staffing: No

Broad Street Market: No

Capitol City Bank: No opinion

Capps Insurance Agency: No

Merry's Trash and Treasure: Undecided

International Uniform: Yes

The Marketplace Antiques: No

SIDE STREETS THAT WOULD ALSO GET METERS

Frameworks at Tire City: No

Dazzling Car Care: Undecided

Furman Jewelry: No

Cobb's Tax & Financial Services: No

-- Compiled by Staff Writers Gracie Shepherd, LaTina Emerson and Tim Rausch

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