The new Montgomery County courthouse opened five years ago with as many as 100 parking spaces located to the rear of the building. During a busy court day last week, only 15 of those spots were occupied.
This is where downtown Christiansburg business owners say there lies a problem, as most of the courthouse patrons are parking in short term spaces that should be reserved for patrons to their business, but that is not happening.
Don Simpkins is the manager of Angle Florist that operates within the shadows of the county courthouse. During public comment to Christiansburg town council two weeks ago, he complained that parking spots directly in front of his business were being tied up daily by “non-retail” customers.
“I watch people parking there every day. They are not coming into mine or other nearby downtown businesses,” he said.
Currently five short-term spaces are located in front of his store with other nearby spaces reserved for police cars. Simpkins said those parking in the spaces directly in front of Angle’s, typically are going to the courthouse.
“This makes it impossible for people to come into our business and others,” Simpkins said.
He honestly believes some businesses have closed and moved because of the ongoing parking problem.
“One of our business neighbors stated that he actually had to move his business because his customers could not access his building due to the lack of parking. Additionally, small businesses across the street also moved because their clients had no access to them,” Simpkins said.
The town had faced a similar situation two years ago when those same courthouse patrons were parking in a temporary lot next to town hall. Now that lot is marked for short term only and a parking enforcement officer typically patrols the lot.
Simpkins said individuals going to the courthouse do not park in the spaces designated in the back of the building. “Instead they are parking in spaces in front of the building.”
He asked town leaders to put up more signage and possibly designate more spaces for retail businesses only.
“We need more signs pointing cars to the courthouse parking (in the rear of the building),” Simpkins said.
The simple solution, according to the businessman, is a sign that says five spaces are for retail-use only.
“We are a business that actually generates tax revenue for the town and county, yet we have no specific spaces designated for our customers to park. It is our hope that you will help us by designating the five available spots left on our end of the town as business retail parking only,” he said.
Council has approved an increase in parking fines from $10 from $25, which is not directly connected to the parking problems. That increase took place to bring Christiansburg violations into line with others around the state.
“I am glad to see parking violations increase. This is important, but I don’t think it will cure this problem,” Simpkins said. “This issue is something businesses have to continue to deal with on a regular basis.”
He said a time limit alone will really not help. Instead Simpkins believes it’s a matter of “time and purpose” for parking.
“People who come to the courthouse for business should park in the area designated for them. Not in front of local retail businesses,” he said.
Currently those five parking spaces in front of Angle’s have a one-hour limit.
Simpkins’ complaint comes a week after another downtown businessman told council he was creating additional spaces on his private property. Ray Alcorn is also proposing a plan to work with the town in renovating several downtown storefronts.
Alcorn, who owns a large percentage of the town businesses, has proposed increasing parking behind the Macado’s restaurant from 80 to 125 spaces by realigning current parking. He also is proposing several other projects to buildings along West Main Street to include outdoor dining and a pedestrian mall.
The project also falls in line with a suggestion by town staff to close Hickok Street to motorized traffic. The town’s farmer’s market is located along Hickok.
Alcorn said the downtown area has become a “ghost town,” and believes now is the time to push for improvement projects. He said the next five years are critical in changing things.
Acting town manager Randy Wingfield said there are some opportunities for the locality to receive state funding to help the businesses. The town is also looking at creating an incentive program that could also provide funding for renovation.
Radford jumpstarted the renovation process in their community 20 years ago when they joined the national and state Main Street program, and Pulaski has been an associate member in the program.
There is a new effort nationwide to recreate the Main Street program with the ups and downs that other communities have dealt with.