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Downtown parking

Number of spaces must keep up with growth

By Walt Braun

Could be our imagination, but city staff members seem to hope rather than know there will be enough parking for all of the existing and approved structures downtown. That isn’t reassuring.

However, Mayor Loren Pepperd’s concerns about adequate parking are reassuring, as are concerns expressed by Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board chairman Jerry Reynard and board member Linda Morse. And it was good to see Riley County Commissioner Karen McCulloh put the question of parking directly to Lyle Butler, president of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, when he updated commissioners on CivicPlus’s plans.

On the CivicPlus building, Assistant City Manager Jason Hilgers acknowledged, “It will obviously pressure parking in and around downtown.”

Citizens ought to appreciate that awareness, but they might be taken aback by what Mr. Hilgers said next: “We kind of hope that will happen, quite honestly.”

His remarks don’t reflect a desire to see motorists cruise endlessly in search of an elusive parking spot; far from it. Rather, his remarks reflect the understandable desire to see downtown thriving to the point that there is constant demand for parking.  And although some users will want daytime parking while others will seek evening or overnight parking, the burden on city officials is to ensure that the “balancing act” Mr. Hilgers mentioned in a story in Sunday’s Mercury serves motorists as well as businesses.

We’re not certain that the demand for parking will exceed available spots. Trouble is, city officials don’t seem certain it won’t. High demand for parking can be a good problem — it’s vastly preferable to parking lots left empty for lack of interest.

Yet according to the Manhattan Area Transportation Strategy, a planning document the city adopted in 2000, the city at that time had a shortage of more than 900 parking spaces downtown.

To their credit, city staff are examining options, including using vacant spots in Manhattan Town Center’s parking lots. Other recommendations in the 2000 document include a downtown shuttle —which ought to be avoided — and making the best use of available spots through education and enforcement.

The city is wise to court businesses for downtown — both in the redevelopment area and elsewhere. But officials should take care to ensure that new or expanding businesses make adequate provisions for their own parking needs and don’t add or create problems either for patrons or other businesses.

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