Parking in downtown Seymour isn’t a new issue, but it’s one on which people have strong opinions.
It’s also a subject of discussion that comes up when planning revitalization projects and looking to attract more businesses and tenants to the area.
With on-street spots and five public lots downtown, most people feel there is adequate parking available.
The problem, some say, is that current two-hour parking laws are not enforced on a regular basis and parking lot signage isn’t visible. Others say it will take changing people’s perceptions of the downtown to make a difference.
On Monday night, more than 30 people attended a town hall meeting at the Seymour Community Center to talk about parking and possible solutions. The crowd included business owners, downtown residents and a few citizens who said they just want to see the downtown be a more inviting place in the community.
The meeting was organized and led by new city councilmen Matt Nicholson and Shawn Malone.
Nicholson said the idea is to come up with some short-term solutions that might grow to more long-term answers for the downtown.
“The reason we’re here is a longtime problem,” Nicholson said. “There’s not an easy answer, but we want to hear from you guys.”
They plan to compile all of the information gathered at the meeting and report back to their fellow city council members.
“Is it a perceived problem? Is it real?” Nicholson asked. “For a business owner, if a customer perceives it as a problem, then it is a problem.”
Nicholson said there are four different types of entities downtown that must be considered when making changes. Those include retail businesses, service businesses such as law offices and medical clinics, people living in the upstairs of buildings and a cosmetology school that serves customers and students.
Jared Hirtzel, owner of The Dapper Dog Grooming at 221 St. Louis Ave., said he has been in his current location for about a year-and-a-half and has noticed parking for his customers gradually has gotten worse since the lot behind the former PNC Bank became a privately owned, paid lot.
“I called the city and found out there was a person who enforces parking, but they only do it when it’s nice out,” Hirtzel said.
Trena Wilde, owner of the Victorian Doll House of Style, a beauty salon on West Second Street, said some of her services last longer than two hours, so she would rather not see any time limits set.
“If one of my customers gets a ticket, they are likely to go somewhere else because it’s embarrassing for them to go out and have a ticket on their car,” she said. “It’s not good for my clients.”
Heather Grube, who co-owns Beautiful Chaos, a gift and craft store on North Chestnut Street, said as a business owner she would be willing to pay the city for a downtown parking permit, if they made one available.
“Downtown is not very full right now, but if we get to the status of Columbus or Salem or Madison, then I don’t know if parking will be as big of an issue because people will know they are going to park in a parking lot and are going to be walking for a while,” she said. “Seymour’s not there yet.”
For downtown business owner and resident Alan Killey, the problem of parking is one he has been battling for 40 years, he said.
Killey runs Hair Force Beauty Academy, a cosmetology school and hair salon on West Second Street.
He said many business owners aren’t aware that if their customers receive a ticket because they were doing business downtown for more than two hours, the business owner can sign the back of the ticket, turn it in at the police station and it will be waived per the city’s ordinance.
“We have more parking in the downtown than Walmart. It’s just not faced the same,” he said. “We don’t have a parking problem, we have a perception problem, and if people perceive that as a problem, then our real problem is that we haven’t sold the downtown in the right way.
“We need to convince people our businesses are so good, it’s worth walking a block to come to me,” he added.
Although everyone has their own ideas on how to improve parking, Killey said it’s going to require give and take.
“I think to have a healthy downtown, we need to have people living above the stores, and you aren’t going to be able to rent those apartments to people unless they have a parking spot,” he said.
Greg Reutter, owner of Tiemeier’s Jewelry Store, said he noticed one day there were around eight tickets on people’s cars.
“I think that’s a good starting point to hand them out,” he said.
Reutter said he thinks the biggest problems are business owners and employees parking near their businesses and the volume of people visiting the community health clinic downtown.
Fred Moritz, owner of Union Hardware on South Chestnut Street, said there aren’t as many parking problems in their block.
“As an owner and employer, we do not permit any of our employees to park on the streets,” he said. “If they park on the streets, they don’t work there anymore.”
He also suggested business owners ask salesmen calling on them to park in lots and not in front of businesses.
Moritz said the average parking spot was worth $18 an hour 25 to 30 years ago.
“For those who think they can park in front of their business, you really can’t afford to,” he said. “I know it’s an inconvenience to walk from the parking lot, but you really can’t afford to park there.”
Malone suggested that signage for public parking lots be made bigger and more visible to help with the perception of lack of parking.
Sandi Cockerham, who owns and operates Java Joint coffee shop on North Chestnut Street, said there needs to be more consistency with monitoring of parking, especially because of all of the spots being taken up by patients of the health clinic.
That’s why she petitioned the city council for a 15-minute spot in front of her business. She said it’s also used by customers of other businesses who are just stopping by to make a quick purchase or to carry out a meal.
“That spot was to service kind of like a drive-through type thing,” she said. “But it’s not monitored, either.”
Garvin Parmley, owner of Bullwinkle’s Family Restaurant on North Chestnut Street, said there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t hear a customer complaining about lack of parking.
“My mom comes by and says, ‘Well, I’m not going to stop in today because I couldn’t find a spot,’” he said. “So I know there is a problem.”
He said he would like to see limits changed to one-hour parking and see them better enforced.
Business owner Kevin Greene, who operates Artistic Impressions art and framing store on West Second Street, said he has noticed that most of the customers who complain about parking are elderly.
“I wouldn’t feel right about asking them to park in a lot a couple of blocks away and walk,” he said.
Tom Goecker, a downtown building owner and president of Seymour Main Street, said it will take time, but to make improvements, it will require people to change their perceptions.
For people coming from other communities, it’s normal to have to walk a few blocks to a store or their apartment, but for Seymour, it’s just not normal, he said.
One solution he is in favor of is finding a new location for the community health clinic, to give them more parking options and leave more spots open for people wanting to shop or eat downtown.
Goecker said the services the clinic offers are needed in the community but not best suited for the downtown.
But once more buildings are filled, Goecker said he doesn’t think people will be as concerned with parking.