Parking is one of those perennial issues in downtown Commerce. Ever since the automobile replaced the horse and buggy, folks have been complaining about the lack of parking.
For the past couple of decades at least, the primary problem with downtown parking has been merchants or employees who parked their vehicles in front of their stores — or those of a neighbor — all day long, denying parking places to potential problems. The answer put forth has always been to enforce two-hour parking by writing parking tickets.
That is still something of a problem, but the main issue now is the creation of off-street parking for employees and customers alike. The good news is that the problem has arisen with the arrival in town of three restaurants and the renovation or pending renovation of other downtown buildings. All of these developments will help bring a vitality to the downtown not seen in 30 years.
Fortunately, the city already owns most of the land it needs to provide parking. Foremost is the parking lot behind the Commerce Civic Center, which serves the civic center, the cultural center and South Broad Street businesses — including two new restaurants. That lot is heavily used, but it is poorly designed, terribly lit and rundown to the point that many people are reluctant to use it at night. For the two new restaurants, the perception of safe parking is crucial.
The city is working on the matter. Its plan is to enlarge and landscape the lot, incorporating an unpaved area at the corner of Sycamore and Cherry streets. The project has been on the city’s “to-do” list for years, but as Dr. Clark Hill of the Downtown Development Authority told the city council Monday night, now is the time to get it done lest lack of parking add to the challenge of operating a successful restaurant in the downtown.
Many will remember the various needs surveys for the downtowns, restaurants always came in at the top of the list. With Little Italy, Stonewall’s BBQ and Vaughn’s Wing Slingers Grill, Commerce now has those restaurants. They, and other businesses in the downtown can’t succeed if their customers can’t park safely.
The city should move quickly on the South Broad Street parking lot, but also make plans to improve or develop lots for North Broad Street and State Street. Downtown Commerce is drawing more people, but that won’t continue unless there is ample parking to support new — and existing — businesses.