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Parking among Decatur Downtown Development Authority’s priorities for 2024

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Parking among Decatur Downtown Development Authority’s priorities for 2024

FILE PHOTO: Electric vehicle chargers were installed at the Decatur Town Center parking deck on Church Street in downtown Decatur in 2023. Photo courtesy of Rodney Torres-Mabe.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Downtown Development Authority set its priorities for the year at its Feb. 9 retreat, and among them is improving the parking experience in the city.

DDA Chair Conor McNally said the most consistent thing the city hears about is parking and the challenges that come along with it.

“As the city has grown, as it has become more dense there’s this oftentimes perceived, but also some reality, about it being difficult to park in downtown Decatur and that being an impediment to the growth of retail businesses,” McNally said.

The city commission also set a few priorities related to the downtown experience during its retreat in January, which included enhancing parking options in downtown Decatur.

The city commission had expressed a need for better signage about where to find public parking, having the rules and pricing posted online and at the parking lots, and evaluating the city’s parking price structure, Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill previously said.

Parking garages could also be improved with better lighting, painting, and creating placemaking on the exterior. Electric vehicle parking options may be expanded on city facilities as well as on-street options.

The DDA expressed similar interests and concerns related to parking during its retreat. McNally added that focusing on parking is one of the most important things the DDA can help with.

Some of the challenges when it comes to parking are figuring out where people can park and how much it costs, Board Member Lisa Turner said.

Some of our Decaturish readers also noted a lack of accessible parking spots, and said there are not many free parking spots available. Others said that they can find spots and walk, while some said they may take public transportation to get to downtown Decatur.

“The challenge is while there’s ample parking, we don’t control it all. We have on-street parking, but that’s somewhat limited. We don’t control these decks, and the decks to me have to be part of the solution,” McNally said during the retreat.

There are action items within the downtown master plan related to parking, one of them being updating, upgrading, and expanding downtown wayfinding signage.

“We have to have better signage for public parking and consistent signage,” Threadgill said at the DDA retreat.

A few board members have previously suggested coming up with a sign package to work with private companies to provide consistent wayfinding signage that can be seen from the public right-of-way and that would be in the parking deck or lot.

“For the next budget cycle, Shirley [Baylis] and I are going to be putting forward a budget request where we are doing to develop the sign package and work to maybe split the cost for installation, try to work with our parking management companies. They’re going to be stakeholders in the conversations,” Threadgill said.

The DDA emphasized the need for more education about where to park downtown as well, whether that be a map, working with local businesses to have parking information on their websites, or linking and enhancing the parking information on the city’s website.

“Even for those of us that have lived here for 20 years plus, it’s still not that intuitive,” McNally said.

DeKalb County owns a parking deck at the corner of Commerce Drive and East Trinity Place. McNally added that the parking deck is underutilized and is one of the closest parking decks to the Square. The county parking deck is slated to be renovated. The DDA wondered if they could work with the county to advance that project.

“It’s not welcoming. It’s not intuitive,” McNally said. “Whatever we can do to take advantage of that process right now if we can show them the commitment that we’re willing to contribute not just to the mural but to wayfinding and other things to enhance what they’re doing, I think that’s some of the biggest bang for the buck we can get in the near term.”

The DDA and the city are planning to work with a consultant to design the parking wayfinding signage and develop a parking management strategy. The DDA encouraged the city to look at adding more bicycle and electric vehicle parking options and to consider adopting an ordinance that would require parking prices to be posted.

“There are times when I’m looking for bike parking, there’s either not enough or you have to go find different places to put that,” Board Member David Harry said. “I would love to see anything like a biking valet or more dedicated areas that you feel secure and that you can park your bike.”

Another priority for the DDA is supporting retail businesses, like through training or assisting with startup costs.

“I think we need to try to understand what we can do to support the retailers better,” McNally said.

Leasing space in Decatur can also be a challenge, especially for new businesses. Threadgill said this is a common complaint she hears, and Turner added that the startup costs for a business are significant.

“I find as a business owner that leasing property is huge, and it is a real force that you cannot start your business,” Turner said. “The landlords are going to demand the rate, and they have the right to, but is there something we could do that involves a tax benefit or a subsidy for a business that is super qualified to go into business?”

She hopes to encourage individuals to start a business and help get their foot in the door to do so. She also suggested maybe this could look like a grant toward rent for a business.

“I see all these empty spaces downtown, and I’m sure there are people that want to start businesses,” Turner said.

Board members also talked about promoting commercial activity more, especially when it comes to new business openings. They additionally discussed the possibility of creating a new emergency grant program that would support businesses should they be the victim of a break-in.

The DDA’s third priority is redevelopment opportunities, in particular the DDA-owned building on South Columbia Drive.

The DDA owns the property at 252 S. Columbia Drive, which is at the corner of Talley Street and South Columbia Drive. There is an existing tenant there, but the lease will soon be ending.

“I will be meeting with an architect to get a proposal for them to do a conceptual design for that site for a mixed-use project and then bring that forward to [the DDA],” Threadgill said. “Programming-wise, the ground floor, we would want a commercial component to it. Upstairs could be housing or offices.”

An action item in the city’s strategic plan is to create affordable retail spaces, and the DDA could step in to provide spaces with lower-priced leases, Threadgill said.

The site is about half an acre. McNally said that it may not be economically feasible to have a mixed-use commercial and residential on a site that size. He liked the idea of setting aside some affordable retail space.

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