Originally created 11/21/02

Group members say parking would lure stores downtown



As downtown Augusta continues to develop, a lack of convenient parking could keep it from evolving to the next level, according to some members of a downtown merchants group.

Main Street Augusta's executive committee discussed how to attract more developers and businesses at its meeting Wednesday.

The outlook appears promising, they said.

Board member Janie Peel recently took information that the group has been compiling about available downtown space to an International Council of Shopping Centers regional conference in Atlanta.

An ice cream shop and hardware store owner stopped by her booth, and a developer asked about the former Woolworth building. Another inquired about tenant space at the former JB White building.

"The biggest issue with both of them was parking," she said. "We're not going to get a big retailer without parking."

Main Street is surveying downtown business and building owners to assess how much parking is needed. The Downtown Development Authority has discussed commissioning a parking study, but it is waiting to find out whether a new civic center, performing arts center or judicial center will be built in the area.

But Main Street Chairman Bryan Haltermann said the outcome for many of those projects could take a while, and in the meantime, adding available parking information to marketing materials is what will draw larger names, such as Starbucks, to Broad Street.

"Just think of what that would do to the image of downtown - just that one retailer," he said.

One topic largely absent during Wednesday's meeting was December's First Friday, the monthly arts event that Main Street organizes.

The committee responsible for recommendations about First Friday did not meet this month, and Brenda Durant, who heads that committee, was not at the executive board meeting.

Last month, the group scaled back the event, dropping all vendors, art demonstrators and sidewalk bands in response to negative publicity surrounding rowdy late-night crowds after October's First Friday.

Ms. Durant said Wednesday that any changes to December's event remain uncertain. She said she was still talking with individual business owners.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.