Parking solution portions smaller than stakeholder appetites

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As downtown Winters takes on new life and attracts more visitors, residents and business people have seen the convenience of parking suffer.

A focused discussion on the issue began nearly three years ago when a group of concerned business owners took the initiative to roll up their sleeves and start working toward a collective solution for parking in Winters as it launches into the realm of heightened tourism.

When thinking of a parking solution, the images that come to the mind first are parking structures or giant paved lots with progressive solar-panel shades.

However, for parking consultant Frederick Venter, hired by the committee to find realistic ways to add parking, the best solutions were right under the nose.

He presented his findings at a joint meeting of the city council and planning commission on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

“The idea is to really focus on the recommendations. These recommendations are really progressive. Winters is moving up to that next level of how to manage parking when you have all those nice and fun activities,” said Venter.

He said that at the peak demand for parking, only 70 percent of the public parking within a block of downtown is full.

He also said that each parking space created in a lot would cost $10,000, and generates no direct revenue. For a structure, the price tag goes up to $50,000 per space, not including maintenance.

Rather than pursue the construction of new parking, Venter suggested the city and downtown businesses make adjustments to street parking striping and lighting to present parking spaces that already exist in a more appealing way,

“You may get to the point where a parking structure is a viable option. You’re probably going to have to bond it,” said Venter.

The consultant also pointed out that making a large amount of parking available for a relatively small percentage of days in the year would be a poor use of city or potential business district money. For days with special events such as Youth Day or the Tractor Parade, off-site parking was the best option, using city-owned buses to bring people into downtown.

Cutting to the meat of the issue, Venter emphasized the need for a centralized business district that would be able to raise money for parking through a tax on each downtown business.

“Make a tax, make parking a goal of the business district. The hardest thing to do is getting everybody to join.”

Another suggestion Venter made was to designate employee parking for the businesses out of prime locations. Since these parkers arrive before the businesses open, the spots are already taken before patrons arrive.

The room was in complete consensus on one thing — valet parking was a bad option and would change the atmosphere of an approachable downtown too significantly.

“I don’t think people come to Winters to valet, they come to Winters for the small town experience,” said Planning Commissioner Lisa Baker.

Many stakeholders in the room who owned property downtown or were responsible for downtown businesses still didn’t think the subtle changes took the potential need for parking seriously, especially with the creation of the new downtown hotel.

“We were hoping to project for the future. I’m still feeling unclear about taking care of the future needs,” said realtor and parking committee co-chair Sandy Vickrey.

Buckhorn owner John Pickerel was concerned about the perception of not taking a more visible step to address parking, fearing that it would cause out-of-town visitors to shy way from making the trip.

“The perception of having a solution; I think you can make some progress there,” he said.

City manager John Donlevy and Venter both responded with an echo of urgency for the businesses to manage their own destiny by coming together with a Business Improvement District.

Donlevy was particularly incredulous about the notion that the Transient Occupancy Tax from the un-built hotel would go toward parking rather than being available to the city for other municipal needs.

The city’s financial situation has already suffered because of increased development projects and lack of money from the tax because of the project’s delay.

“Our lynch pins are the property owners,” said Donlevy, “Hopefully we’ll get some leadership in the downtown businesses. The city is not going to become the downtown association.”

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