DDA examine parking issues

ALPENA – As downtown Alpena continues to development, the way parking is being utilized has become somewhat of a concern. So much that the Alpena Downtown Development Authority began to investigate parking trends earlier this winter.

The results have led to the DDA forming an energized parking committee that will explore ways for customers of the downtown businesses to have access to prime parking spots.

DDA Director Lesslee Dort said one of the problems is store owners and employees are parking in front of the establishments or in time-restricted spaces near the center of downtown. She said as a result, customers who want to shop are forced to park further away. She said sometimes they choose not to do so and leave downtown without even entering a business.

During the holiday season Dort and other DDA staff walked around town at various times of the day and on different days to get a feel for parking trends. She said there was enough concern to begin issuing tickets for those who abuse the downtown’s two-hour parking places and form the committee to come up with ideas to find a solution.

“We wanted to get a snapshot of parking and to find out where people are parking, when they park the most and who they are,” Dort said. “From what we can tell in the two-hour parking lots a good portion of it is employees. Those parking areas in the core of our downtown we would like to have open for customers and the most convenient to those coming to spend their dollars.”

Among the things being considered are parking lots designated for employees and store owners, adding more angled parking spaces on the roads, building a parking structure and possibly the installation of parking meters. Dort said addressing the problem soon is important because downtown has seen an increase in activity over the last several years.

As it continues to flourish, parking woes could continue but a large change will not be made without the input of the City of Alpena and other entities locally. She said downtown used to have parking meters until about 20 years ago when the sidewalks were widened. She is not opposed to having parking meters downtown, but made clear there is no intent to install any in the near future.

“We are trying to stay open minded about this, right now,” Dort said. “Parking meters in my mind are a positive thing because any free parking is going to cause trouble. You always run out of the free stuff. If you put a bit of a value on it, even if it is just a quarter for a half hour, it is a small price to pay and it also helps us offset the costs of the maintenance. It has been discussed.”

Dort said the DDA has the ability to issue tickets to those who violate the parking rules in its district. She said it is paying close attention to the two-hour parking areas for people who are leaving their vehicles for long periods of time and leaving them a small citation.

“We are issuing the tickets. We walk around downtown twice a week and we are marking tires in the two hour parking and come back three hours later,” Dort said. “The point isn’t to collect $3 from people downtown. The point is to keep the traffic turning over in those high demand spots and if someone plans on spending a longer period of time downtown, then maybe they will park in a lot that is all day parking.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689.