our real downtown parking problem

We have a parking problem on the west side of downtown De Pere. But, what many people see as a lack of parking, I see differently. We don’t have a lack of parking. Our problem is that we have plenty of unrestricted parking but it’s going unused. I’ll explain.

I’ve spoken to various business owners about this over the years, but things now seem to be heating up a bit lately. In the past month or so, a number of business owners have expressed concern to me about the lack of parking for their customers. One recent event that is causing concern is the opening of a new coffee shop on Main Ave, with an entrance in Nicolet Square. This of course brings more employees and customers to the area, which should be a good thing. But some neighboring business owners would disagree with that statement. Being a coffee shop, many of the customers stay for extended periods of time, which doesn’t line up with a desire to get cars in and out of the parking lot in 2 hours. So, I think we need to take a step back and first figure out what we want and expect.

The blocks around Nicolet Square feature different types of businesses: professional offices, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, a yoga studio, etc. Given this diversity of businesses, each owner rightly wants to be sure there is enough parking for their employees and customers. But our problem is that these owners don’t agree on how long that parking should be.

One owner of a recently remodeled restaurant and comedy shop told me that he wants to be able to host all-day corporate events. The owner of a pizza restaurant told me he needs the current two-hour parking to be enforced to enable good turnover for meals. But these two business owners share the same parking lot. A consultant we recently hired for some downtown planning spoke of wanting patrons to visit downtown, walk around, take in the shops, have dinner, and spend some time (much more than our current two-hour limit). So, we need to figure this out. Do we want customers to arrive, stay for two hours and leave? Or do we want to allow customers to spend an afternoon in the area, perhaps visiting multiple businesses?

All of that said, here’s the real reason I decided to write this blog post today. There is PLENTY of parking downtown, but businesses just aren’t using it. Obviously, employees need a place to park all day, and if they’re taking up parking spots then that’s not good for customers. So if we just had a place where employees can park, away from the front door, that would be ideal.

Well, I’ve got good news. What if I told you that I know of a solution that provides over 100 unrestricted parking spots, where employees can park all day, and all of these spots are within four blocks of the Claude Allouez Bridge? And what if I said that over half of these spots are within one block of Nicolet Square? That should make a significant impact, right? Well, we don’t have to build it; we have it today. And these are not parking spots that are already filled and therefore not available. These are not parking lots that are hard to get into. On the contrary, I’m referring to street parking, with spots that are rarely used! And since most businesses don’t seem to know about them, I walked around downtown counting them, and I created this map of unrestricted parking spaces to show you where they are. I found 115 such spots!

All of these parking spots are wide open public parking, with no time restrictions (overnight parking rules apply). There are no catches. Just park your car, get out, and go to work. Stay as long as you want. Since these spots are mostly unused, if most of the downtown businesses would just agree to have their employees park there, that would open many dozens of spaces for their customers. And this is only a start. Maybe after doing this we’ll find that we still have to make some changes, but we have this solution available to us today and we should give it a chance. Yes, we still need to address some parking concerns, including confusing signage in the Nicolet Square lot. But this solution is available today, and it has been for years.

So, when I hear complaints about parking, I’d like to see a good faith committment from businesses to show that they are serious about taking care of their customers. It’s very common for businesses to tell their employees to park further away and save the good spots for customers. Our downtown businesses should do the same.

UPDATE: 2018-07-12 Thu 11:20am

After I published this article earlier today, I figured it might be helpful to share a couple of photos of the two main stretches of parking spaces that I wrote about. So, I went over to the area and took these two photos at 9:40am.

In this shot of Main Ave, there are 15 unrestricted spaces on the right, all open. The pickup truck on the left is parked in a 2-hour spot, but there are 9 unrestricted spots beyond it that are all open.

Main Ave – 24 parking spaces available

In this shot of Reid St, all spots on the right are 2-hour parking. But all 26 spots on the left are unrestricted, and in this case, 23 of them are available.

Reid St – 23 parking spaces available

UPDATE: 2018-10-11 Thu 11:30am

A neighbor commented on this post on Facebook, saying that in the fall all the open spots are taking up by SNC students. So I took these photos today, a weekday in October, at 9:50am.

In this shot of Main Ave, all 24 unrestricted spots are available.Main Ave - all 24 unrestricted parking spaces are available

Main Ave – 24 spaces available

This shot of Reid St is practically identical to the shot I took in the summer. 23 of 26 unrestricted spots are available.

Reid St - 23 of 26 unrestricted parking spots are available

Reid St – 23 parking spaces available

I don’t know when the best time would be to check for the use of parking spaces by college students, but I figure Thursday mid-morning is a pretty good representation. Perhaps another day/time would be good to look at as well.