GARDINER — With every swing of a hammer and every new building permit issued in downtown Gardiner, the city is moving closer to making some decisions about parking.

While a recent analysis shows Gardiner has adequate downtown parking for its current needs, the demand for parking is expected to become greater when buildings that are now vacant or underused are redeveloped into residential, retail or other space.

“Everyone says (lack of) parking is a good problem to have until it’s a good problem,” said Mick Miclon, artistic executive director of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center.

The historic opera house is now in the latter stages of fundraising to renovate its 400-seat theater, which has been closed for years. When that is done, the resulting parking demand on downtown Gardiner will be much greater than it is today. Johnson Hall currently hosts shows and concerts on its Studio stage, which can accommodate about 115 people.

“We had a show on Saturday night and we were just about sold out,” Miclon said. “Everybody was like: There is not a parking space anywhere near. We are jammed and we are full. We sold 110 tickets; that’s probably 40 cars.”

When both theaters are open, that number could quadruple. While most shows are scheduled for off-peak parking times in the evening, Johnson Hall is also expected to put on programs during the day.

Miclon said a prior parking study showed the availability of 1,000 parking spaces within 1,000 feet of Johnson Hall, which included spaces at Waterfront Park, in private lots including those now owned by Camden National Bank and Hannaford supermarket.

“We know it’s going to have to become a collective conversation with the whole city,” Miclon said.  “That includes all the businesses that have parking on Water Street, and even Hannaford.”

To get a handle on the downtown parking situation, the city of Gardiner last summer asked the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments and the Maine Department of Transportation to complete a parking study.

The Gardiner City Council reviewed the results presented by Nich Aschauer of KVCOG earlier this month at a City Council meeting.

One of the spots that may be utilized for parking in downtown Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy Buy this Photo

Hourly parking occupancy counts of the 306 public parking spaces were conducted from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, and Wednesday, Aug. 28. Both of those dates were before Labor Day, when traffic counts are expected to be higher.

On Aug. 24, the peak occupancy was in Waterfront Park from noon to 3 p.m., and on Water Street, east of Church Street, at 4 p.m., Aschauer said.

On Aug. 28, peak occupancy occurred at the lot at City Hall in the late morning and late afternoon. Mechanic Street and Bridge Street experienced peak occupancy in the late morning, and Mechanic Street had peak occupancy at 2 p.m.

The report offers recommendations for managing the current parking capacity and demand around downtown Gardiner.

Some are fairly simple — ensuring parking spaces are marked, and improving visibility of parking signs and directions to find parking, as well as more information about parking.

Others would require more analysis of parking time limits and locations.

In the Arcade lot, which is behind Water Street and Cobbosseecontee Stream, spaces located closer to the buildings could be used for short-term parking, and those closer to the stream could be used for daily parking.

Elsewhere in downtown, the most attractive parking spaces could be designated for short-term parking. One way to ensure those time limits are observed is regular enforcement; another is paid parking.

To handle heavy demand for parking during special events and festivals, the report suggests creating a parking plan for that, including working with private parking lot owners to secure access to those lots.

With the expectation that redevelopment will continue in downtown Gardiner, the report suggests that city officials identify areas that are not being used now for parking but could be, such as Church Street.

Other options are developing or buying parking lots and fostering partnerships with owners of private lots in and around downtown Gardiner to allow access during off-hours in exchange for either payment or services.

Roger Bintliff and Alan Claude, who between them have bought the five buildings of the Dingley Bock at the east end of Water Street, listened to the presentation, and both had concerns about the timing and scope of the study.

“The thing that’s going to change down by the Dingley Block is that there are six new businesses and eight new apartments going in,” Bintliff said.

The businesses, including the Bateau Brewing tasting room, Bintliff’s own coffee shop and a yoga studio expected to open later this year, are expected to bring a volume of traffic coming in during the day looking for parking.

Bintliff wanted to know how that will  affect the area of downtown once everything is up and running.

Aschauer said the block is unique in that it is undergoing a level of development not seen in years and it is not far from available parking, including at the municipal lot by City Hall, if that were available.

“It should be viewed comprehensively, not just providing parking in front of or adjacent to a building,” Aschauer said.

Parking spots in downtown Gardiner at lunchtime Monday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said she expects to assemble a committee to look at the issue and draft recommendations for City Council consideration.

“This is the first step in understanding what the capacity and what the needs are,” Hart said. “But it’s also understanding all the new businesses coming in and what their needs are.”

She said she expects the committee to meet soon. Once it does, its members will determine what other information they need to accomplish their work. That may include analysis of activity after 6 p.m., when people are going to restaurants, to shows at Johnson Hall or dropping off their children at the Ampersand Academy of Dance and Performing Arts.

As they take on their work, two projects this year are expected to increase available parking in downtown Gardiner.

Last year, Johnson Hall in collaboration with the city secured a grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission to improve access to Johnson Hall from Mechanic Street. The project includes increasing parking by adding diagonal parking spaces. That work is expected to start later this year.

Work is also expected to get underway at a vacant lot on the east side of Water Street just south of the Dingley Block. Gardiner Main Street won a grant to assess and clean up the contamination on the parcel. When that’s done, it’s expected the lot could be leveled and made into additional parking.

“This is a problem we’re looking forward to solving,” Hart said.


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