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ANDRE TEAGUE/BRISTOL HERALD COURIER — A study commissioned by the city of Bristol, Va., suggests additional parking is needed in the downtown area. The municipal parking lot across from the Bristol Train Station is one of the possible sites under consideration.

Parking study cites need for more spaces in downtown Bristol...

April 03, 2012

If you missed this story, check it out now — By: David Mcgee | Bristol Herald Courier
Published: March 25, 2012
BRISTOL, Va. — The city should consider a downtown parking garage to meet long-term needs while also doing a better job managing its existing spaces, according to a new study.

Rich & Associates, a Michigan-based parking and development consulting firm, concluded that Bristol, Va., should establish a parking facility with as many as 240 spaces despite an abundance of total downtown parking stalls that exceed current needs. The study cited expected future development and identified certain blocks along State Street that typically need additional parking now.

“Currently, there is a surplus of 359 [total] spaces downtown, but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” consultant Richard Rich recently told the Bristol, Va., City Council. “There is a grouping of blocks that have pretty severe deficits, surrounded by blocks that also have deficits. The good news is — overall — there is enough parking, but it is not in the right place and not all publicly available.”

There are more than 3,400 spots in both Bristols combined but more than 2,100 are privately owned and generally not available to the general public. In Bristol, Va., private spaces account for 57 percent of the city’s almost 2,000 downtown spaces.

While the Bristol, Va., council paid for the study, it also included parking spaces in Bristol, Tenn.

At least half of all parking should be available to the public to foster long-term economic growth, Rich said. The study also cites insufficient directional signage, issues with upkeep and the poor condition of many of the available public parking lots.

Bristol, Va., Mayor Ed Harlow said that any talk of a parking garage is premature.

“At this point, in the next six months to a year, I don’t think we need it,” Harlow said. “If we get more development downtown – if we get a boutique hotel and when we get the [Birthplace of Country Music Alliance] heritage center completed and the Apple store opens, we may need to look at it from a different perspective.”

The study takes into account the potential long-term impact of projects like the proposed heritage center, which is forecast to attract thousands to the downtown area.

“Probably the most challenging part of this project was trying to figure out what to do with over 500,000 square feet of vacant space,” Rich said of unoccupied downtown buildings and spaces. “There are projects planned for some of it and – for the rest of that vacant space — in the next five years we assumed 50 percent re-occupancy of mixed use.

“We did an alternate analysis that had some of the vacant space going to residential and some to office [use]. In five years, based upon the mixed use model, there could be a deficit of 628 stalls or 429 stalls, depending on the model. It’s a crystal ball,” Rich said.

The 148-page study identifies three possible locations for a parking garage: a vacant lot between State and Goode streets across from the Bristol, Tenn., transit center; a city parking lot on State, between the Bristol Public Library and Macado’s Restaurant and a city-owned lot near the intersection of State Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, across from the Bristol train station.

The city doesn’t own most of the first site and the second site is too small, Rich said, adding that the third option also has drawbacks.

“The one issue with this site is that it is located at the far east end of State Street,” the consultant said. “It could potentially be difficult to get customers and visitors of the core downtown to park and walk from this location.”

City leaders could also opt to provide more and better public parking options by negotiating to buy privately owned spaces and promoting them through marketing and better signage. Either way, city officials should pay more attention to parking, Rich said.

“As the plan for parking develops, it must be actively managed. Parking should be treated as an enterprise fund with the money coming into parking should stay in parking and pay for the cost of parking. You should establish a CIP [capital improvement plan] program to maintain the parking lots you have. Probably the most important is the coordination between the two Bristols on parking policy.”

In the study’s wake, both Bristols are now talking about the condition of existing parking lots, directional signage, parking enforcement and other concerns, Harlow said.

Most city parking lots are poorly lit and need improvements to surfaces, the study shows.

“At some point, Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va., have got to get on the same sheet of music on our parking and come up with a plan that is comprehensive,” Harlow said.

Both cities are working with Believe in Bristol, the downtown business development group, on a parking committee to address immediate needs.

“Parking is a huge issue and certainly one of the most important factors in economic development,” BIB Executive Director Christina Blevins said.

The committee’s role is to develop a parking “system” of signage and information to direct downtown visitors to the most convenient parking. Any talk of a parking garage is premature, Blevins said.

“Right now, we’ve just started the discussion about parking, we have both cities talking about it and everybody is working together,” Blevins said.

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