WATERVILLE — A panel studying parking problems expected to occur downtown in light of revitalization efforts proved Wednesday that creativity and brainstorming are critical in seeking solutions.
The city’s new parking study committee discussed places downtown where new parking spaces might be created to help fill an expected parking gap resulting from Colby College’s pending construction of a residential and retail complex and hotel on Main Street, building renovations underway downtown and the expected filling of vacant buildings.
Parking committee members were asked at their first meeting last week to walk the downtown and find places where more parking spots might be developed. They came to Wednesday’s session armed with all sorts of ideas — and City Engineer Greg Brown emphasized that they are just ideas, not proposals.
Committee member Ken Vlodek, owner of Yardgoods Center on The Concourse, said eliminating a right-turn lane on Elm Street where it enters Appleton Street would create seven parking spaces. Member Cindy Jacobs, president of the board of trustees of Waterville Public Library, suggested if Appleton Street in front of the library were re-worked and made one-way, 14 spaces could be created, where now there are three. Another option could be to block off Appleton Street completely to traffic in that area, according to Brown.
“I’m not saying this is a good idea or a bad idea,” Brown said. “I’m saying this is an idea.”
Jacobs has said at previous downtown revitalization meetings that older people and women with children have difficulty finding parking spaces near the library now, and with the construction of a college residential complex expected on the northeast part of The Concourse, parking to use the library will become more difficult. Vlodek, whose business is near the dormitory site, said the area fills up with vehicles quickly during the week now, and 90 parking spaces will be lost to that building. Vlodek suggested new parking areas could be identified behind the mall where the Goodwill retail store is.
“We have options at the Head of Falls site,” Brown added, explaining that with improvements, city-owned land off Front Street is ripe for parking.
At the north end of the lot, for instance, there is room for 120 parking spaces, the center area could house 187 spaces and the southern end of the lot could have 66 spaces, according to Brown.
“I think this is very important if we have overflow parking in the future,” he said.
About 20 people turned out for Wednesday’s meeting, held in the council chambers at The Center downtown. The next meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the same location.
Committee members at their first meeting last week were asked to review the parking section included in a traffic study conducted by Gorrill Palmer, of Portland. The $102,000 study was funded equally by the city, Colby College and the state Department of Transportation.
That 16-page section on parking includes surveys, graphs and analyses detailing the number of parking spaces in various areas downtown, projects how many more would be needed at various times of activity if all vacant buildings were filled and recommends the city monitor new developments downtown and act accordingly with parking needs.
The firm, BFJ Planning of New York City, worked with the city on the parking surveys and other parking-related work.
Colby is infusing more than $45 million into the downtown as part of revitalization efforts. Colby’s plans for investment include the residential complex at 150 Main St. for students and staff involved in a civic engagement curriculum, as well as a new 42-room boutique hotel at 9 Main St.. Also, renovations are underway in the former Hains building at 173 Main St. and are expected to be completed this summer when more than 30 CGI Group employees are expected to move into the upper floors. The ground floor would house a retail use.
While CGI has said it wants to employ 200 people downtown within the next few years, those workers would not all be inside the former Hains building, according to Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for both Colby and Elm City LLC.
“That building cannot hold 200 people,” he said Wednesday.
The total number of a municipal/public parking spaces downtown is estimated at 1,093, including 610 parking spaces on The Concourse,148 along Main Street, 67 on upper Main, 81 on lower Main, 68 on side streets and 60 on Front, according to the study’s data, which does not include privately owned parking areas.
The study concludes there are enough parking spaces downtown for current use and the downtown has a substantial number of vacant parking spaces even during peak activities such as when the Waterville Opera House is in use. But the study acknowledges that Colby’s planned new residential complex — to be built over existing parking on the northeast part of The Concourse — will eliminate 90 spaces.
It says the city could expand the capacity of the parking lot at Head of Falls by 45 spaces by paving the gravel part of the lot all the way up to the underpass near Union Street. It also says Main Street would lose 65 spaces if that street is converted from one-way to two-way traffic, which is among the study’s proposals.
Some of those spaces would be converted from diagonal to parallel, new loading zones would be developed, a shuttle bus stop created, pedestrian bump-outs built and some spaces would be converted to van-sized spaces for handicapped accessibility.
The city is undergoing revitalization efforts that will enhance its livelihood and make it more attractive, according to the study, which recommends the city manage its parking resources more efficiently. It notes that, as growth occurs, the city might have to add more parking downtown. City officials have said the parking committee will discuss at some point whether the city will need a parking garage.
The parking section of the traffic study recommends the city continue the practice of municipal/shared parking, designate the most attractive spaces for short term, or two-hour, parking and enforce parking duration limits; consider paid parking for the most central and convenient spaces, starting with on-street parking along Main Street; have employees, merchants and others who do not want to pay for parking park in more remote areas such as at Head of Falls and improve that area with lighting and security; enforce parking rules by using modern technology such as license plate readers and automatic ticket-writing devices; and improve infrastructure downtown for bicycles, such as installing bike racks and sharrows, or shared-marking lanes, on Main Street.
The traffic study as a whole identifies options for making Front and Main streets two-way instead of one-way as part of an estimated $4.4 million project. The study says that making the roads two-way would allow commuter and through traffic to pass through downtown more quickly via Front Street and make Main Street downtown more of a destination spot.
Current traffic patterns downtown push traffic through and around downtown rather than invite people to shop, eat and visit cultural venues downtown, according to the report. More pedestrian-friendly walkways and intersection and landscape improvements would be needed if two-way traffic is developed in the heart of downtown, the study says. The preliminary estimate for construction costs for road and intersection improvements would be $4.4 million, in 2016 dollars.
Other ideas floated Wednesday for creating new parking spaces included possibly eliminating the road through The Concourse that runs by the “Ticonic” sculpture, eliminating the roadway that runs in front of the dollar stores and Goodwill, which is heavily used by pedestrians, and possibly removing some green spaces on The Concourse.
Committee chairman John Fortier said the group next week will discuss key elements of a parking management and/or enforcement strategy.
Amy Calder — 861-9247