By CARL SMITH
Downtown Starkville business owners say the city needs to take a tougher stance on parking violations so more shoppers can visit the area.
Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president for tourism and chief operating officer, met with city officials earlier this week and will make a presentation to the board of aldermen Tuesday to address drivers who park in downtown spaces for more than two continuous hours.
Section 106-405 of Starkville’s code of ordinances states: “Any person committing one of the following acts shall be subject to a fine for each violation of this article: No. 1: Parking in a no parking zone; No. 2: Parking in the downtown area in excess of two hours or in excess of the marked or posted time limit; No. 3: Parking in disregard of the posted or marked designations, limitations or restrictions or any other rules or regulations pursuant to this article; No. 4: Parking in an unsafe area or in an unsafe manner or position; No. 5: Parking in a place or manner which obstructs traffic or obscures intersections or traffic signals or signs.”
City code also states drivers with three or more parking tickets issued in the previous 24 months which remain unpaid may have their vehicle immobilized.
The mayor and board of aldermen are authorized by city code to adopt parking rules and regulations.
While the two-hour rule is on the books, Gregory and other downtown business owners say it must be enforced stronger because occupied parking spaces prevent shoppers from visiting various downtown locations.
“We’re working to educate drivers about the parking rules and encourage them to use public parking spaces around the downtown area,” Gregory said. “
Parking signage is under development to guide drivers to under-used public parking areas, Gregory said. Also, she said, the Starkville Main Street Association is developing public-private agreements with area banks and churches for access to their parking areas during unused times.
“A majority of these offenses take place during the lunch hour,” Gregory said. “We do want people — consumers — to spend more than two hours downtown, but shoppers need access to parking. Many downtown retailers want to see two-hour parking (rules) enforced. We’re counting on their support.”
Gregory suggested a new system of ticketing could be implemented to enforce and educate drivers to the parking rules. For first time offenders, she said a promotional notice which informs the driver about downtown rules and public parking would be placed on a violating car.
“We could even use a QR (Quick Response) code which links to a map of public parking locations here in Starkville,” Gregory said.
Following the first notice, a graduated ticketing system could be used, Gregory said, which could implement a wheel lock for habitual offenders.
Occasions Gift Shop owner Pat Ramsey said she has seen numerous times where downtown parking areas near her store were filling up before shops opened for the day. Two-hour parking violations have been evident since the store moved to downtown, she said.
Many of the parking violators, Ramsey said, are employees of downtown restaurants. When an employee occupies a guest spot downtown for a workday, it prevents numerous shoppers from visiting Downtown Starkville stores, she said.
“We’ve had customers who come in and say they have to make the block at least four times before they could park near our store. (Parking is) a huge problem, and our customers complain,” she said. “If employees would at least park on side streets or in public parking areas, we’d still have busy times around lunch but it would allow for more customers to stop and shop.”
Kim Jones, Mary Virginia’s Children’s and Maternity Consignment owner, said she too sees many downtown employees parking in customer parking areas. When customers cannot park and visit locally owned shops, stores lose customers, she said.
“The restaurant employees park there from mid-morning and stay all day,” she said. “It impacts all of the businesses on Main Street. If customers don’t have somewhere to park, they’re going to go somewhere else. (Access) is the best way to keep our foothold against big box stores.”
Jones said the parking issue needs to be handled soon because it will only grow as more businesses move to downtown.
Restaurant executive Ty Thames said many people point out restaurant employees as the main parking offenders on Main Street because those businesses employ the most people.
“I do tell my employees to park off Main Street, but I cannot stand outside and enforce that rule,” Thames said. “I’m 100 percent for the two-hour parking enforcement because I think if we get employees off the road, it will open up more slots for customers and help generate more revenue for the businesses and city. A (police citation) offers more of a consequence than I can. If any downtown employee gets a ticket for parking (over two hours) on Main Street, they’re not going to park there again.”
Thames said a public-private agreement for parking with area churches and banks would also be beneficial for Main Street shoppers and workers.
“That’s a good right-this-minute answer,” Thames said. “As Main Street grows, we’ll cross those bridges when we get there with innovative solutions.”
Rebecca Tabb, owner of Tabb & Co., said other towns, especially those with town squares, effectively use public parking locations a block or two from downtown.
“We do have great parking locations where you can walk a block or so. You want Main Street to be comfortable for shoppers to find a place so they can go from shop to shop,” she said. “I think (enforcement) would be a great thing for business owners.”
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said the demand for parking spaces is a direct correlation to the success of Downtown Starkville’s businesses.
“I think it’s a great problem to have because it’s a sign of us growing as a community. This sort of demand wasn’t an issue 10-15 years ago. There’s no doubt we’re at a place we’ve never been before with downtown parking. We’re doing things right now to grow downtown, not just with businesses and shops but area as well,” Dumas said. “We, as a city, have to be very deliberate with this issue because we need a (parking-enforcement) program that is sustaining but not detrimental to downtown. To the credit of (Starkville Police Chief David Lindley), we’ve been loose on enforcement because we’ve never had this issue and we want to entice people downtown.”
During Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting, Dumas said Lindley will present a report on the current city parking regulations. Aldermen will then discuss the issue, Dumas said.
As for an immediate solution for parking problem, Dumas said a public-private partnership with local banks and churches would make sense logistically for downtown and model what many other cities across the nation have done.
“(Those areas) typically need parking when downtown isn’t busy and vice versa,” Dumas said. “I think it’s a viable opportunity because enforcement is one thing, but we need to have a long-term look at the situation and possibly additional parking areas.”
The construction of a parking garage would answer a long-term need, Dumas said, but the city has no plans to do so in the near future.