Efficient parking downtown an issue for merchants, visitors

Published 8:19 am Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Courteous use of downtown parking spaces has been an ongoing issue voiced by downtown business owners since before Fall last year. Some argue that the parallel spaces along East Elk Avenue should be reserved for clients, and that merchants should park in the side lots, or that not enough parking is available. For others, the issue is Carter County Cruise-In attendees arriving early downtown, blocking parking spaces for those interested in shopping and eating.
“A lot of shoppers decide whether to stay based on the availability of parking, and a lot of times, spaces on Elk Avenue are quite full,” said Joe Alexander, owner of Alexander Insurance Agency.
The Parking Committee of the Downtown Business Association, chaired by Alexander, met on March 1 to discuss potential solutions to alleviate congested on-street parking.
Suggestions for making more parking available included the implementation of angle parking, expansion and promotion of off-street lots or limiting parking to two hours. Elizabethton Director of Planning and Economic Development Jon Hartman said they would not be able to enforce two-hour parking. He said angle parking would be a viable option.
“It would require the reconfiguring of lots of components of Elk Avenue like adjusting lanes and traffic flow onto Elk Avenue,” he said.
He cited potential effects as slowing the speed of traffic downtown and creating more parking spaces, but said it could have a potentially negative effect on truck deliveries downtown.
“I can’t really comment on the likelihood of it,” he said. “There are a lot of things to discuss, and there would be many people involved to move forward.”
Regarding merchants parking in front of their businesses, an associate of Ritchie’s Furniture Warehouse formerly sent a letter to merchants asking that they park off-street. Alexander said the committee decided to make a composite letter using this one and one that Alexander had written to take a similar approach to the issue.
Regarding off-street parking, the city has recently installed signs downtown which direct guests to additional parking, like the lot behind Tweetsie Treats and the Coffee Company.
“This is kind of an effort for us to encourage people to raise awareness that we do have off-street parking, and it’s not much farther than what you might have to walk with on-street parking,” said Hartman.
They have also considered posting signs which tell how long the walk might be from each lot to downtown hot spots, Hartman said.
The Carter County Cruise-Ins take place every Saturday evening from April through October. Members of the committee, which includes representation from downtown merchants and from the Carter County Car Club, suggested holding the Cruise-In once or twice a month rather than four times or beginning an hour later at 6 p.m. Car Club members felt that visitors for the Cruise-In who like to eat and shop downtown might be dissuaded by this and might eat elsewhere, thereby dampening business for downtown merchants. Two other suggestions, which Alexander said were not very well-received, included shortening the season of the Cruise-Ins or moving it to E Street.
“Everybody agreed that people need to communicate better and educate patrons to use back lots when possible” said Alexander.
Additionally, he said representatives from the Car Club agreed to remind visitors to park off-street if they are not eating or shopping before the show. They also said that if the event would cancel due to weather, they will try to inform downtown restaurants, whose staffing would be affected by the decrease in clientele.
Members of the committee additionally include Kris Yarlett of Edward Jones Investments, John Bunn with the Coffee Company, Ron McCloud with Antiques on Elk and the Car Club, and Lynn Taylor with the Car Club. The next meeting date has not been posted.

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