Panel vows to find solutions for downtown Dover’s parking woes

DOVER — With more businesses opening their doors in downtown Dover and construction of the Loockerman Way complex on the horizon, the perpetual problem with parking in the heart of the city is once again a hot topic.

Todd Stonesifer, chairman of the parking committee for the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP), went before the Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday night to seek Request for Proposals (RFP) to find downtown parking solutions.

“I just need to stress this is not a request for another study, this is not a request to spend dollars, this is a request to get solutions from folks hoping to obtain the ability to sell to us their ideas in the form of a continued revenue stream for them by managing our parking, or offering a solution and then taking those ideas and seeing, ‘Is that something we can handle or is that something better handled by an authority?’

“The idea would be for (the DDP) to manage the proposals, discuss them at a board level at the Downtown Dover Partnership and then come back to the city with our suggestions. Just like every committee (at City Hall) makes suggestions to the city council, let the city council make the decision after our research.”

The Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee voted unanimously to accept staff recommendation for the approval for the DDP to move forward with obtaining RFPs for parking solutions and designated City Manager Donna Mitchell to serve as point person for the project representing city council. Full city council will vote on the measure at its next meeting on Oct. 28.

City Councilman Tim Slavin offered his support toward finding solutions in an often-confusing parking situation in downtown Dover.
“We have analysis paralysis when it comes to parking,” Councilman Slavin said. “We’ve done so many studies and each one has come back — with the exception of one — each one has come back and said, ‘You have a parking problem.’

“The last one we did said, ‘You don’t have a parking problem,’ and the first question that was asked collapsed the whole methodology when asked, ‘Are you figuring this out for today’s level of jobs and residents or tomorrow’s’ — and they said ‘just today.’”

Mr. Slavin added, “I agree with the approach. Just be solutions-based and bring the experts in. Let people who do it for a living, do it for a living.”
Mr. Stonesifer requested that the city allow the DDP to include the street parking spots downtown, which are owned by the city, in its search for parking solutions. The city agreed to allow the organization to use its parking spots for the RFPs.

“In order to request solutions, the Downtown Dover Partnership is here asking for permission to include the real estate that is owned by the city of Dover, essentially the street parking that’s in our area,” he said. “We’d like to include that in our request for solutions. We need the permission from the city of Dover in order to do that.

“In short, the Downtown Dover Partnership Parking Committee sees the need for changes in our current parking situation as economic development continues and we would like to seek out solutions from those much more qualified than those serving on the DDP’s Parking Committee.”

Valuable property
Finding a spot to park in downtown Dover during peak hours can be difficult, considering all the people who work and live in that area.

There is currently an inventory of 233 parking spots in the downtown shopping district. However, 34 of those spots will soon be lost when the Loockerman Way complex is eventually built at the site where the Capital City Farmer’s Market currently meets every Wednesday.

That, Mr. Stonesifer said, is cause for concern.
“Currently, we’re seeing significant economic developments, mainly the Loockerman Way complex, expansion of some current businesses and some other new businesses in the pipeline,” said Mr. Stonesifer, who added he is happy with the economic development. “Recently, there was a Request for Proposal for a parking garage and it was deemed that funding would be insufficient to move forward with that project.

“Simultaneously, with the development of the Loockerman Way, we are going to ultimately lose under our control 34 spaces in that Loockerman Way parking lot on North Street. We believe the demand on the parking when the building goes up will outweigh the supply and we believe that the parking challenges will become more of a reality than a perception as this growth continues.”

Councilman Fred Neil said the city might have pigeon-holed itself with some of its deals to attract new businesses downtown.

“The problems are perpetual in that we (the city) have guaranteed E-ZPass x-number of parking spots,” he said. “Those parking spots are in certain lots. You can drive into those lots any time during the day and night and not find cars in there. Where are those cars going? Where do those people who are supposed to be there parking?

“We’ve even explored with the transit folks whether or not we could have a bus circulating around so that the people from E-ZPass could park over near Spence’s — across the street from there — would that be possible?

There is a cost to that. They have to have certain minimums. Taking that all into consideration, having a different look (at the parking issue downtown) from a different perspective — not from our eyes but from another’s eyes — I think would serve very, very well.”
Councilman Neal added the parking issue downtown, “is very perplexing.”
“I do support this attempt because anything we can do, anything we can add to resolving the things that are in front of us that we may not see, will prove to be very helpful,” he said.

Quick start
Tina Bradbury, operations manager for the DDP, said the organization would be accepting RFPs for downtown parking solutions immediately after receiving city council’s approval and hopes to put those solutions into action next spring.

“We at the Downtown Dover Partnership are certainly not parking experts, we are business owners, and we are volunteers,” Mr. Stonesifer said. “What we’d like to do is to seek out solutions from experts in that industry.

“We expect there would be zero cost for this in the fact that the folks offering the solutions would do so at no cost in the hopes that they would eventually successfully be awarded the opportunity to implement those solutions.”

Mr. Stonesifer said the DDP already has an RFP in hand but wanted to make sure it looked at every option available, hoping to turn the most attractive idea into a reality.

“We’re tired of talking in circles,” he said. “We’ve been given a proposal by one company for a solution to our dilemma. We like the idea, but we decided there might be a better idea. There might be a less costly idea.

There might be an idea that we can control ourselves, and so we’d like to go out to other parking authorities, cities similar in size and demand as ours, and see what they have to offer as a solution.

“It might be night and day from what we’ve already been offered. It might be a similar idea. We don’t know.”
They hope they find out soon.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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