Officials look to solve parking problem
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The ongoing revitalization of downtown Atmore has brought more shops to the area along or adjacent to Main Street, which has brought more people, which has created a greater need for parking space.
City of Atmore officials and local economic development specialists are cognizant of the fact that the lack of adequate parking could be a hindrance to continued business growth and are working to solve the problem before it reaches crisis level.
The city currently has just one public parking lot, on Trammell Street’s east side, nestled behind the businesses that operate along South Main Street and West Nashville Avenue.
The lot accommodates parking for employees of most of the businesses, but the addition of the lunch and dinner crowds for Gather restaurant fills the lot to capacity and takes up most of the street-side parking places. Meanwhile, shoppers and customers of other businesses are left to fight for the few available parallel-parking spaces available along Main Street. The lack of parking is especially noticeable on the northern end of the city’s “main drag”.
Jess Nicholas, CEO of Centerfire Economic and executive director for the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, pointed out that not only is the problem real, it is also a dual-faceted dilemma.
“The issue is really two-fold,” he said. “One, we need more spaces in general; two, (the parking spaces) that are parallel along Alabama Highway 21 (Main Street) aren’t the easiest to get in and out of, given the overall amount of traffic on that road (and street). The city is attempting to develop other parking spaces, as was done in the area behind Gather, especially on the north side of the railroad.”
Codes Enforcement Officer Chris Black said the city currently owns no property near the boutiques and other shops and stores that operate along North Main.
“Most of the property behind those stores is privately owned,” Black said.
Statistics compiled by the Alabama Department of Transportation show that about 12,000 vehicles travel through Atmore each day on Alabama 21/Main Street and about 7,500 more travel along U.S. 31/Nashville Avenue.
Mayor Jim Staff said recently the city is in the preliminary stages of building a municipal parking lot at the corner of Trammell and Ridgeley streets. The property, just a block off North Main, will help alleviate the problem to some degree, but not enough to meet future demand.
Eunice Johnson represents District 3, which includes most of downtown, on the Atmore City Council. She agreed the new parking lot is sorely needed.
“That’s a good start; it’s a good idea to put a parking lot there,” she said. “So far, everything’s good. But eventually, as we grow, we should develop others.”
Staff also said he tried to buy the Trammell Square strip mall at the corner of Trammell and Church streets, but the property was sold to a speculator who envisioned the city’s problem.
“It was for sale, and I offered them $30,000 for it,” Staff said during a recent conversation. “I never did hear back, so I called the realtor. She told me it had sold for $50,000 and that the new owner said to leave the (“for sale”) signs up. Now they’re asking $125,000 for it.”
The International Parking & Mobility Institute notes that adequate parking represents a “unique challenge” for planners and developers in any city and that cooperation between economic development specialists, local government and the public is vital to creating a sustainable parking system.
Whatever the answer, IPMI stresses that growth in population and business is tied intrinsically to the availability of adequate vehicle parking, using a line from the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams — ‘If you build it, they will come.’ — to accent the relationship.
“But without building and investing in parking facilities, they will not come,” IPMI’s website reads. “Parking drives economic development perhaps more than ever in today’s urban resurgence.”
Nicholas agreed that finding a solution to the parking problem will be a key to downtown development.
“We are very aware of the parking problem as economic developers, and we want to help the city do whatever it can to alleviate it,” he said. “We’re certainly glad to have the growth downtown and we want that growth to continue, so there are multiple reasons for wanting to fix the problem.”