Parking garage, or bust?

DOVER — Judging from the issues that business owners and apartment tenants brought up in a Downtown Dover Partnership public meeting on Tuesday morning about parking troubles in the downtown area, parking remains a constant problem that despite what solutions are offered, never quite get fixed.

The normal problems such as not enough available free parking in front of retail stores on Loockerman Street, business owners and employees taking up much of the area’s parking stock, and the reluctance to walk from a parking lot located on Governor’s Avenue back to apartments and downtown shops “that is continually met with people begging for money and prostitution offers,” dominated the conversation.

Dover City Councilman Fred Neil, who represents the Third District, said “enough is enough” — it is time to build a long-debated parking garage that he believes will help solve all the perceived troubles with visiting downtown Dover.

“The sooner the better,” Councilman Neil said. “The reason is, first off, the perception. The second thing is from practical experience. At this particular point in time, the people think that there is something wrong with the parking – and counting how many spaces you have doesn’t resolve it.

“I thought it was great to have this meeting, but it also emphasizes a point of having that parking garage. There’s no question that if you have people down here already and living here, they’re going to patronize these businesses.”

The councilman added, “Of course, I’m looking also from the standpoint of outside people coming in on tourism coming in to see our quaintness that’s here.

“You better have parking available and you better have it marked well so they understand where they’re going to go to be able to enjoy what’s here.”

Dover City Planner Dave Hugg said a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking bids to build a downtown parking garage is in its final stages and will soon be heading out from the city’s offices.

“I’ve signed off on the RFP and I think (City Manager) Donna (Mitchell) signed off on it (Monday),” Mr. Hugg said. “The next step is the newspaper should get an ad from (the city) and that actually will announce the availability. They (RFPs) are actually proposals to build the parking garage and ideas with how to operate it.

“There’s a period of time after it goes out for people to submit preliminary proposals and then there’s a ranking period, and then I think the top proposals come back for a formal presentation. I think (a parking garage) will solve a lot of problems.”

Ears open to the issues

The parking issues downtown do not just occur on Loockerman Street, according to the attendees of the meeting, they go up to The Green and all the way down Bradford Street and every other nook, cranny and alley in between.

The DDP instituted several new parking changes for 2019 in January, including:

• The Loockerman Way Lot (behind the Santa House) is now a metered only lot.

• The Bradford/Minor Lot is now completely permit parking only and motorists must have a blue parking pass to park in the lot. There is no longer metered parking, free two-hour parking or 15-minute parking in the lot.

• The Governors Avenue Lot is parking by permit and motorists must have a yellow parking pass. There is also free two-hour parking in the lot.

• The on-street parking remains free two-hour parking for downtown business customers only.

• There is no public parking in the North Street Lot as this is now a private parking lot and is no longer managed by the DDP.

Diane Laird, executive director of the DDP, wrote down all the issues she heard about parking downtown on Tuesday.

“We’re going to put together an ad hoc committee, so we’re not really planning to discuss solutions (Tuesday) but we would like to hear from you,” she said, prior to the meeting. “We’ll take all of those comments back to the ad hoc committee and bring them before the board, as appropriate, and bring them up at the next committee meeting before final solutions are offered.”

Jonathan Street, Parking and Safety Committee chair for the DDP, was pleased to hear from a variety of voices.

“There are usually a lot of people who like to give input and I’m glad they all showed up,” he said. “For anything really to happen, it takes public input.”

Widespread problems persist

Chris Raubacher, who along with his wife Rebecca owns property from 123-127 West Loockerman Street, attended Tuesday’s meeting and had Mr. Street read an email that the two wrote to him. Their property consists of four commercial and five residential units.

“Current parking arrangements in downtown Dover discourages clients and patrons from supporting downtown businesses, discourages tenants from living downtown and, in turn, discourages future investment in downtown Dover leading to decreased property values,” the Raubacher’s email read. “We have received complaints from apartment tenants and commercial tenants.

“Residential can no longer park close to their building. Tenants need to be in close proximity to their building to load/unload their groceries and goods and to feel secure at night walking to and from their apartments.”

The email added, “Commercial tenants need to have access to their stores in order to load and unload merchandise. Shoppers need to be able to park close enough to entice them to shop as well as make it easy to carry good back to their vehicles.”

Eric Czerwinski, deputy director of the Air Mobility Command Museum and a former employee at the Dover Army Navy Store at 222 Loockerman Street, was also not impressed at the changes that have been instituted with downtown parking.

“The latest parking plan is simply horrible,” Czerwinski wrote, in an email to Mr. Street. “The city not just ignored the consultant’s recommendations, but limited public parking even more, making things more confusing and ultimately eliminating any chance of getting downtown Dover back on its feet.

“A parking garage is a must and without one, downtown Dover is doomed to failure.

“A parking garage must be centrally located on Loockerman and be safe and secure.”

Lauren Tinsley, owner of A Center for Mental Wellness at 121 Loockerman Street, said that recent parking changes enacted by the DDP last month were made without retailers receiving ample notice.

“We’re a medical facility and I have to send in plans explaining and identifying where (patients) are to park, and it could take between three to six weeks warning to the insurance companies and to all patients, so we don’t run into any issues with people being able to access care,” she said.

“We have seven psychiatrists and nurse practitioners, and we have appointments every 15 minutes throughout the day, so we average from 1,500 sessions a week on Loockerman, but they’re in and out quicker.”

Tom Smith, owner of The Delaware Store at 325 South State Street, noted that parking issues aren’t solely Loockerman’s alone.

“I have had issues with parking around The Green because there’s not a lot of turnover around The Green at all,” he said.

“It’s supposed to be two hours, but many people park all day and there appears to have been not very much enforcement going on and the people that park there know that because they stay there all day, and nothing is going to happen to them.

“It’s mostly state employees quite frankly, it isn’t just people parking for the courts. We know for sure that most of the people who park there, work there, and they just don’t move their cars.”

Parking garage a cure-all?

It appears as if the most popular solution was shared along with Councilman Neil on Tuesday when he said, “The bottom line is, we need a parking garage downtown if we want to attract business and tourism.”

Mr. Hugg concurred, saying the efforts to get the parking garage project underway are just now taking their first steps.

It has been suggested that the parking garage be constructed at the current site of the Bradford Street parking lot.

Mr. Hugg thinks that business leaders are waiting for a sign to invest in Dover. He feels like the construction of a parking garage downtown could be that signal.

“I think the decision of ‘Where are we going to put a parking garage?’ is kind of the key,” he said. “It’s the one that’s going to send a positive signal and probably drive some of the development around it.

“Private investors who are interested in doing things need a signal from the city that we’re serious.”

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

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