Attention turns to parking as Downtown grows
New projects to Downtown are signs of its latest growth, but the current parking situation may not be able to sustain that development.
On any given day there are plenty of parking spots available. At the worst times, residents may have to walk a couple of blocks. But parking becomes much more congested when events come to town.
“Parking, in general, is probably typically pretty available,” said Parks Director Chuck Kempf. “Obviously, when there’s an event, especially a large event at the Civic Arena, maybe even at Felix Street Square, or at the Missouri Theater, I think then parking can become a little bit of a challenge.”
“At some point in time we’ll have to think about adding some sort of parking structures in the future or renovating what we already have,” Kempf said about future events.
Downtown businesses also have varying opinions on the topic. Brennon Calvin, a manager at Seventh Street Cafe, said no matter the day, parking is a “nightmare.”
“It’s super hectic,” he said. “It’s always congested. Truth be told, I think a lot of the customers stay away because they get intimidated. If they want to come in here, especially if they’re on a lunch break, they’re going to have to park three blocks away and walk up the street. It’s a pain.”
Pat Modlin, the owner of Felix Street Gourmet, agrees the lunch rush is busy. But he said his business is fortunate to have the Mosaic parking garage nearby and plenty of street parking.
The garages themselves have their issues too. Mosaic put in a security gate at their garage, but this has led many residents to believe it costs money, when it is actually free to use.
“We’re trying to stress that there is lots of parking available Downtown,” said Christy George, the liaison for the St. Joseph Downtown Association. “It’s safe — the Mosaic parking garage has a gate you have to go through, but that’s just to keep you and your car safe. But it’s free.”
The two city garages aren’t as pleasant to the eye. Both have structural problems that have forced the city to close specific spaces, although the city says the overall structures are safe.
“Maybe it’s because the exterior looks the way it does,” said Public Works Director Abe Forney about why the parking garages are underutilized. “The skeleton, the interior of the garage is sound, but they’re aging and they’re falling apart, so maybe that’s why.”
Residents have also voiced safety concerns, as the garages are poorly lit and no longer supervised.
“I think a lot of the businesses that are there between Fourth and Sixth street(s), even up to Seventh Street, would benefit by having the parking garage improved,” Modlin said. “I know there’s been concerns as far as lighting and security.”
“I think the parking garage close to the Civic Arena, it’d be nice to have that look a little more attractive,” Modlin continued. “We bring a lot of visitors to town and make it feel safe and secure, find a way to kind of show off Downtown rather than make it a detriment.”
Before Brady McKinley, the former assistant director of public works, retired, he said the two city parking garages should be “razed and surface only parking lots built in their place.”
“With the Children’s Discovery Center, I would think that we’re going to need additional parking there as well,” Modlin said. “It seems like it’s probably easier to maintain if it’s just one level, but we should look at number of spaces. I think we need to do that analysis to make sure we have plenty of spaces.”
Forney said the city is constantly looking at ways to make the parking garages more efficient.
“We as a city staff need to keep communicating with people in Downtown and meeting their expectations when there are special events,” he said. “We need to have parking for people down here.”
As Downtown continues to be developed, attention will turn toward parking.
“Right now we have plenty of parking and it’s just underutilized,” George said. “If we utilize the parking that we have and then we can look later on in the future to see if that’s something that we need.”
Quinn Ritzdorf can be reached at email@example.com