Downtown parking plan to be proposed

ALPENA – Parking in downtown Alpena always has been an issue.

Store employees like to park as close to their work as possible, which sometimes makes it troublesome for customers to find nearby spots, and residents who live downtown often have trouble finding residential parking where they don’t have to move their cars early each morning. After Alpena Municipal Council’s meeting Monday, there could be sweeping changes on who can use particular parking lots and how long vehicles can remain in them.

Alpena Downtown Development Director Lesslee Dort said a parking committee was set up more than a year ago to examine the issue. She said the DDA, the city, DPW and city police were represented on the committee. She said local business owners also had a voice in the matter and on steps that can be taken to make their stores more easily accessible for customers.

The plan to be proposed Monday will increase the number of residential overnight parking places from 22 to 31 for people living downtown, while changing some of the long-term parking lots in the area to two-hour parking areas. The parking lots that will be two-hour parking, or customer parking, will be lots on Park Place and Third Avenue behind the Owl Cafe, the city lot behind The Alpena News, the parking lot on the west side of Carter Street and the lot behind the post office. Culligan Plaza and the east side of Carter Street will be longer term parking for employees and customers who need to be downtown for a longer stay.

Parking lasting more than two hours will be found near city hall, behind the Armory and behind the post office. Dort said the decisions to make changes wasn’t a knee jerk reaction. She said the process started before any thought of a possible plaza downtown began. She said a lot of thought and input was taken before the proposed changes were agreed upon by the committee, and the goal is to make things as simple and easy as it can be before everyone needing to park in the downtown vicinity.

“The businesses and workers are important, and so obviously are the customers. We understand they all want to be close,” Dort said. “Right now it is just too confusing, so if this passes, council signs will be placed at the entrances of the lots and an attendant will be hired to monitor the parking. We want to make parking the best it can be for our guests who are spending money downtown, while keeping things convenient for the people who work and live downtown.”

Dort also will ask council to increase the penalty for someone who is issued a parking citation by the attendant. Currently a parking ticket is $3 and it doubles each 10 days it goes unpaid. If approved by council, the cost would be bumped to $10 and double every ten days its payment is late.

She said she has heard complaints there isn’t enough parking downtown and it has been a controversial issue for years. Dort said there have been studies done that show there is ample parking spaces in downtown, and currently there are around 1,000 parking spaces near or in downtown. She said that is enough to accommodate everyone.

“We have adequate parking. It’s just a matter of using it the right way,” Dort said. “This should be all positive, because there is actually very little change. We are still working on things and if someone has a concern I want them to contact me so we can talk.”

Street-side parking on Second Avenue, on parts of Chishom Street, areas of Third Avenue, Park Place and River Street will be two-hour parking in many areas. Dort said this is what will allow for customers to be able to get near to the businesses they desire to shop at. She said that is important.

“We would never do anything to hurt the businesses,” Dort said. “We also don’t want the business owners to be frustrated because customers can’t park in front or near their stores. We just all need to use a little common sense about where we park.”

If council passes it, the overnight parking for residents would take effect immediately while the other changes would begin after an attendant is hired.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.