In the shadow of the Downtown Mall, Charlottesville’s warehouse district has undergone dramatic changes, but tenants say a critical need remains unmet.
The area’s newest ACAC Fitness and Wellness Center, The X Lounge and Moxie Hair & Body Lounge are only some of the businesses to set up shop in recent years. Now, the six-story, mixed-use Gleason building is under construction, helping fulfill the city’s desire to create dense, infill development in and around downtown.
But while all this has happened, critics say, the city’s approach to the area’s parking has remained unpalatably stale.
“This neighborhood has been very proactive in its redevelopment,” said Sean Dougherty, project manager of Octagon Partners. “Yet the parking is the same.”
A recent study examined downtown’s parking woes and proposed potential solutions, concluding that the city’s timed parking should be designated in core, inner and outer zones around the Downtown Mall. The study, by Raleigh, N.C.-based Martin Alexiou Bryson, showed particular strain on the city’s 265 two-hour, on-street spaces, and found that, in general, timed parking was in much demand.
But businesses farther from the mall are vexed by the city’s ideas on when changes should be implemented — after the four-month Downtown Mall restoration is completed. The study’s recommended plan said all on-street parking spaces should be redesignated in early 2009 and the changes should be reviewed that spring or summer.
Jim Tolbert, director of Charlottesville’s Neighbor-hood Development Services, said the city would rather wait because of the access issues and disruption the mall renovations will create.
“It’s going to be a mess until [construction] is done,” he said.
But Dougherty, whose Garrett Street firm is overseeing The Gleason’s construction, argues the parking changes “needed to be done three years ago.”
While parking adjoining the mall will surely be affected, he said that he doubts the project will affect parking a few blocks south.
Todd Toms, co-owner of Moxie on Garrett Street, agreed.
“It’s not really going to disrupt our parking,” Toms said, referring to construction.
City officials recommended that roughly 15 spaces in the block around ACAC and The Gleason properties be changed from all-day to two-hour parking. Currently, 48 percent of the city’s on-street spaces are unrestricted.
“It’s silly to say that it should wait until the mall renovation is done, because we’re just so far away from the mall and because we’ve waited so long for the change,” Dougherty said.
City councilors say they understand the urgency to apply the study’s recommendations — the study’s release was already pushed back for months. But the mall’s disruptive overhaul may complicate downtown’s existing parking availability, they say, and incorporating new patterns may further exacerbate the problem.
“I think the smart thing to do would be to wait,” Councilor Julian Taliaferro said.
Mayor Dave Norris agreed, saying parking and loading spaces for businesses are bound to be affected during the mall’s four-month rework. City officials have already begun advertising street closings because of the project — beginning Saturday, First Street between South and Water streets will be closed to vehicles until June. Sixth Street between the mall and the entrance to City Hall will be closed for five months beginning in January, and both of the mall’s crossings at Second and Fourth streets will be closed to vehicles for roughly two months in the spring.
“There’s a lot going on at once so we don’t want one to conflict with the other,” Norris said.
But, he added, whether businesses several blocks off the mall and over the CSX railroad tracks should have to stomach the wait is a question yet to be answered. Toms said he thinks the current unrestricted parking around his Garrett Street business needs to be converted as soon as possible to parking that will generate customer turnover. Right now, Toms said, downtown commuters fill unrestricted spaces early in the morning and do not leave until the business day is over.
“There’s no reason why this side of the tracks has to suffer,” he said, adding that on-street spaces should be more for shops and businesses rather than for daily commuters.
If the city can accommodate changes in the mall’s periphery without harming the parking situation downtown, then those changes might happen, Norris said. The City Council will need to pass ordinances for some parking changes related to the Downtown Mall project, and public meetings will be held Friday and Nov. 18 to discuss potential changes.
“I don’t think it’s going to get any worse than it already is,” Dougherty said.