Aiken's 2-hour downtown parking defies fix

AIKEN - Merchants and customers couldn't reach consensus Wednesday night on how to solve the parking problem in downtown Aiken.

City Manager Roger LeDuc met with both to propose ideas on how to ease the concerns over two-hour downtown parking. Aiken has enforced the limit on some downtown streets for the past two years, but dozens of business owners have protested them recently.

LeDuc had hoped to have one proposal to present to Aiken City Council at its March 8 meeting.

Now he will present two options: doing away with two-hour parking or enforcing two- or four-hour parking in the centers of Laurens Street and Richland Avenue.

With both proposals, LeDuc said he would suggest increasing short-term and handicapped parking spaces near storefronts.

LeDuc had suggested adding signs downtown to help customers understand the parking restrictions.

Several merchants disagreed with that proposal.

"We don't need more signs. We need fewer signs," said Mike Enloe, the owner of Plum Pudding. "The only sign we need is one that says, 'Welcome to Aiken.' "

Enloe has started a Facebook page promoting the suspension of all parking restrictions. He said the restrictions have led to fewer customers patronizing downtown businesses. Most of his customers shop at several downtown businesses for longer than two hours, he said.

Gracie Waters, a real estate agent and downtown shopper, said she agreed with extending the parking limit to four hours. She, like many in attendance, agreed that employees are taking up many of the parking spaces.

A study in 2007 showed that parking spaces were being used by 111 employees throughout the day.

"The minute you take all the restrictions out, we're going to have the same problem," she said.

LeDuc said he spoke with most of the downtown business owners before the meeting. All agreed that some changes needed to be made, but few thought unlimited parking is the solution. Those with customers who stop in for brief visits preferred the short-term parking in some areas.

"I have heard several different opinions, because we have so many different kinds of businesses," he said. "If everybody had the same type of business, we would have a pretty boring town."

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