With two new restaurants open on South Broad Street, the Downtown Development Authority is talking about parking again.
In particular, the DDA would like to see the parking lot behind Stonewall's BBQ and Vaughn's Wing Slingers Grill restaurants improved.
City workers did re-stripe the parking lot last week after the DDA meeting May 28, but longstanding plans to enlarge the lot to take in a grassy area and to landscape and light it appear to be perpetually on hold.
"Now that we've got two restaurants on that block, we need to make it so the businesses can survive and thrive in the downtown," said member Dr. Clark Hill, who brought the matter up at the DDA's meeting.
Hill proposed that the DDA "push" the city council on parking improvements. He was on the agenda for Monday night's council work session (see separate story).
Hill expressed concern that the parking lot's poor appearance and lack of lighting might contribute to the failure of new businesses. A restaurant that opened in the same location as Vaughn's Wing Slingers Grill lasted about a month.
"The more times you have businesses open and close in a month or two, the less likely you are to get the next person to invest the money," he told the DDA.
"It is past time we did something about it," agreed member Keith Ariail, long outspoken in favor of improving downtown parking - including enforcement.
There are other areas of town where parking is an issue, including off North Broad Street, where one major building has been renovated and two others are in process.
But DDA member Terry Minish agreed with Hill.
"Personally, I'd like to see us work on that lot (behind South Broad Street), since we have two new restaurants," he said. "Three months may be too late."
"I feel a sense of urgency," Hill added.
The city has a plan to re-develop the parking lot, which is bordered by Wilhard, South Broad, Sycamore and Cherry streets and is the primary parking lot serving both the Commerce Civic Center and the Commerce Cultural Center. The plan calls for grading the grassy vacant lot across from City Hall to expand the parking area, and to provide landscaping, lighting and signage.
According to Ariail, the DDA's Design Committee plans to present a proposal to the city council this summer regarding updating the parking ordinance, improvement to several parking lots and the improvement of signs directing motorists to those lots. First, he said, it will develop a proposed priority list of improvements.
At Monday night's city council work session, Hill repeated his assertions, and Mayor Charles L. "Buzzie" Hardy Jr. said he, Mayor Pro Tem Dusty Slater and Councilman Richard Massey would work with members of the DDA's Design Committee to come up with a plan.
Hill briefed the council on the total parking situation, including the need to acquire an additional lot behind State Street and the need to improve the parking lot across from the civic center.
All parties seemed to agree that the lot behind the civic center is the first priority.
"The one behind the civic center - it is so important that we get it renovated, lighted and landscaped," said Councilman Bob Sosebee, who also chairs the DDA.
Hill reminded the council of the various new businesses and other buildings being renovated for which parking spaces will be needed.
"What we don't want to happen is for the businesses to invest in the downtown and not be able to succeed because there's no place to park a car," Hill said.