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Downtown Parking Structure

February 02, 2011

Bristol Hearld Courier
By David Mcgee
Published: January 13, 2011

A proposed downtown parking structure appeared well received Wednesday during a meeting between city leaders and downtown property owners and merchants.

Organized by City Manager Dewey Cashwell and Believe in Bristol, the information session attracted more than 50 and broke the ice on the concept of erecting a parking structure on a city-owned parking lot at the intersection of State Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Downtown business and building owners including Ben Zandi, Eric Blevins and Joe Kerr voiced enthusiastic support for the concept while others who were unable to attend sent e-mails expressing support.

“I own two businesses downtown. You see people drive around the block two times and, if there’s nowhere to park, they go someplace else. You’re leaving money on the table,” Zandi said.

Blevins, who owns and has rehabilitated buildings on both sides of State Street, said parking issues remain his biggest headache.

“As a property owner and business owner, I can tell you nothing is more frustrating than parking problems,” Blevins said. He recounted learning no parking spaces accompanied a building he’d just purchased and was trying to improve.

“Without addressing parking, I have no other plans to redevelop more buildings downtown until something changes,” Blevins said.

Kerr said parking lots for his Piedmont Avenue businesses were typically full most weekdays and weekends and always full during special events like the Rhythm & Roots Reunion.

“Clearly there is a need,” Kerr said.

Cashwell said the expected growth of downtown businesses and events could put a substantial squeeze on already strained existing parking capability.

The basic concept is a three-story structure with about 200 spaces that could also serve as a hub for the city’s public transit system and include some retail space to generate revenue. It could, however, have an architectural façade to reflect the style of nearby historic buildings and not look like a parking garage.

Blevins and others urged the city not to make any structure too small.

Cashwell said he had no clear indication of likely cost but compared it to a “barn-raising” because it would require financial commitments from the private sector to make such a business enterprise successful.

The city of Kingsport plans to begin work soon on a $4.4 million, 364-space, three-story parking structure on an existing parking lot, to serve its downtown justice center and nearby businesses.

“This would be much more than just a warehouse for cars – a great deal more. It could be a catalyst and a profound element to spur other things,” Cashwell said.

There are 110 businesses and 40 occupied loft apartments in the downtown area. While there are almost 2,000 public parking spaces in the greater downtown area – in both states – many are along parallel or side streets. About 70 spots are available along the six-block downtown section between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the intersection with Volunteer Parkway and Commonwealth Avenue.

“We need your feedback,” Cashwell said in response to a question about how the project could proceed. “We want your input, based on what you’ve heard tonight. Based on what we hear, I would take this to our elected leadership and then possibly to a consultant so we can learn more about this.”

Mayor Don Ashley said it is wise to consider the garage because city leaders in 2020 might look back and wish they had.

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