I talk about Downtown Parkersburg a lot. It's my job. I love to talk about what's going on, what new business is opening, what's playing at the Actors Guild, Art Center or Smoot, what downtown needs and on and on. It's fascinating to me. One conversation that regularly fascinates me the most is about parking.
I am amazed at how many people talk about a downtown "parking problem." To hear them tell it, that may be the No. 1 problem in downtown. Wow! Did I miss something? Of all the challenges our community has, it is my opinion downtown parking is not a problem. Here's why I think so.
First, while I think we don't have a parking problem, we may have "parking management" issues. Parking management considers the best use and policies of parking in a given location. Some parking should be metered, some should not; some parking should have short-term use, some long-term and some parking should be monthly. To say downtown doesn't have enough parking is oversimplified and frankly, incorrect.
The majority of parking lots in downtown are currently not fully rented. As far as monthly rental spaces goes, there may be actually an over-abundance. Compared to surrounding cities, Parkersburg's monthly parking fees are low. If it were in demand it would cost more. If there is a parking management problem it may be the issue of too much monthly parking. Additionally, there is either not enough short-term parking or it's possibly too cheap and easy to feed the meter.
Parking management strategies must continually be developing a detailed parking plan. Along with good parking enforcement, we must have strategic ticket pricing and laws such as "camping" where cars are not allowed to stay in short-term spaces. That is just a few ideas.
Additionally, we must realize "free" parking is not a right. The county parking lot next to the Blennerhassett Hotel is rarely full. And the Town Square Parking Garage has only been full twice in the 10 years I've been at the hotel. I suspect they're not full because people have to pay to park in them. By the way, you also pay to park at Wal-Mart and the mall too, but it's hidden in the price of your purchase.
I'll close with a favorite story when I was working at the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta. On a very busy "special merchant event" day I was stopped by an older store owner who had a major complaint about the event. While he had agreed to participate, he emphatically told me he would never again because his street was so crowded he "couldn't even park in front of his own store."
Wow! I told him I couldn't believe how thoughtless all those customers were. I was sure I could not help him.
We'll talk more about parking later.
Cecil Childress is general manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and chairman of Downtown PKB.