The increasing popularity of downtown Kent as a destination is causing growing pains for both motorists and business owners.
On Tuesday, about 20 downtown business owners, managers and several city officials gathered at to address parking problems – both new and long-standing ones that are now amplified.
The meeting was opened by Mary Gilbert, executive director of , and most comments and questions were directed to Jim Bowling, city engineer, and Bill Lillich, city safety director.
A similar meeting held last month netted a list of parking concerns. This month’s session was an opportunity to brainstorm solutions that could ease those concerns during the next 18 months of construction in the downtown area.
Many problems will be solved once the multimodal transit center is constructed on Erie Street. The facility will accommodate bikes, cars and buses and provide 370 new downtown parking spaces.
In the meantime, though, numerous parking spots on DePeyster, Erie and Water streets have been lost to construction fencing put up around the block bordered by those streets and Haymaker Parkway.
That block will house a hotel and conference center being built by the and Columbus hotelier Pizzuti Companies, as well as the Fairmount Properties project across DePeyster. The latter building will house offices for AMETEK and Davey Tree Expert Co.'s Davey Resource Group on the second floor and numerous restaurants and shops at street level.
Also under construction in that area is the second phase of developer Ron Burbick’s Acorn Alley, which fronts on Main Street and extends south toward Erie Street.
One of downtown’s biggest parking problems, it was agreed last month, is business employees parking in what Bowling called “prime spots” that should be available to customers. Lillich agrees.
“The one thing we hear most often is the concern about repeat parking offenders who tie up spaces, moving from space to space” throughout the day to avoid being ticketed, he said.
There are no parking meters downtown, but there are “two-hour limit” signs posted in various areas. Lillich said consistent enforcement of that time limit would be labor intensive and therefore too costly for the city to implement.
Meeting attendees agreed that a good start to solving the problem would be a “persuasive letter” sent to every downtown business owner along with a map showing where employees should and should not park. The letter will be written by Dan Smith, the city’s economic development director, and distributed by Main Street Kent.
Since many business owners have received customer complaints about two hours not being enough time to thoroughly enjoy all that downtown offers, Lillich said some areas will be changed to three-hour parking on a trial basis.
Also, Bowling said the city will look into the feasibility of changing parallel parking on some streets to angled parking to ease the shortage of prime spots for the near term.
Lillich said it will take up to a month for the city to create a new, temporary parking action plan complete with maps and signage that will help both downtown patrons and employees get through the construction period.