City tries again to help ease downtown parking concerns

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 22, 2000

Bill Rush Mosby heard complaints about downtown parking problems more than a decade ago as a member of Natchez’s Downtown Parking Authority. Nearly 15 years later, the authority is defunct but the parking concerns never went away.

&uot;We had some of the same concerns then as we do now,&uot; said Mosby, a downtown businessman who was one of five members originally appointed to the authority.

In the latest effort to ease those downtown parking woes, the Natchez Board of Aldermen will consider reactivating the Downtown Parking Authority in its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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The board of aldermen under former Mayor Tony Byrne established the authority in 1983 to &uot;better coordinate parking solution efforts,&uot; according to a 1983 Downtown Business Association newsletter. Other than the brief mission statement, not much is known about what the authority would do.

Ward 4 Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West suggested the board look into reactivating the forgotten authority to address current parking complaints, as well as those that could be created by a downtown convention center.

One of the downtown parking concerns Mosby dealt with in the 1980s — and one people still complain about today — is a lack of available parking caused by employees and merchants parking along the street instead of private lots.

&uot;The people that work downtown are parking on the streets,&uot; Stinky Evans, Billie’s bridal shop manager said. &uot;They’re the problem.&uot;

Tammi Mullins, Natchez Downtown Development Authority executive director, said she has received a number of similar complaints from downtown merchants and business people.

&uot;When I first took over in October, that was the thing I got the most calls and the most people coming up to me on the street about,&uot; Mullins said.

To address the concerns, Mullins and Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff formed a parking committee under the NDDA. The committee, which was approved by the board of aldermen, is composed of downtown merchants — those most affected by parking problems.

In an effort to remedy the problems, the committee is conducting an experiment where spaces normally restricted to two-hour use are &uot;open&uot; — meaning there is no time limit on how long a vehicle can remain without being fined.

Mullins said there had been problems with merchants and employees parking on the street, then moving to an available spot when the two-hour time limit was up.

In last week’s meeting, the board of aldermen asked Mullins, Huff, Assistant City Planner Gretchen Kuechler and City Planner David Preziosi to research the authority and make a recommendation.

Mullins said she is still unsure at this time what the responsibilities and powers of an authority would be.

&uot;I really want to get a feel for this and make sure we’re not doubling up on services we already have,&uot; Mullins said, referring to the work being accomplished by the NDDA parking committee.

Mullins also said she is not overly concerned the current problems will be worsened by a downtown convention center.

As a former business owner, Mullins said she attended many market conventions and shows in other cities, and shuttles were the popular mode of transportation.

&uot;I think with most conventioneers, that’s the way it works, and they know that,&uot; Mullins said, referring to the use of shuttles over personal vehicles.

&uot;They don’t want the headache of trying to park,&uot; she said.

Walter Tipton, director of tourism, agreed that a majority of future conventioneers will rely on shuttles and parking should not be greatly affected.

&uot;We certainly intend to have plans in place,&uot; Tipton said. &uot;We’re not just going to put a building out there and not have plans for parking.&uot;

For now, several downtown merchants said they are pleased with the recent remedies and believe the problem is under control.

&uot;There is always a need (for better parking), but they’ve made the most of what we have,&uot; said Darby Short, owner of Darby’s gift shop.

Evans agreed that parking has improved since the two-hour experiment began. &uot;It’s helped a lot,&uot; she said.

Sherry Bearden, owner of Mississippi Gold fine jewelry and gifts, said she is not convinced the experiment is a permanent solution.

&uot;We’re not highly trafficked now,&uot; Bearden said, adding her store does much of its business during the fall months and Christmas.

Bearden said she is also frustrated by employees and merchants parking in spaces intended for customers.

&uot;It’s totally inconsiderate, and that’s all it comes down to,&uot; she said. &uot;It hurts all of us.&uot;

Other than inconsiderate business people, Bearden said the problem is made worse by out-of-town tourists parking in private employee parking lots, forcing employees to park on the street. Bearden said she realizes visitors may do so unintentionally, but merchants could solve the problem by hiring security or posting signs.

Bob Haltom, Haltom & Co. Real Estate, also said he has a solution to remaining parking problems: common sense.

&uot;We need only to utilize the spaces available in a more efficient manner,&uot; Haltom said in a recent letter to the board of aldermen.

Haltom goes on to say in the letter there are hundreds of potential parking spaces being &uot;wasted&uot; because of inadequate marking and too much room at intersections.

Because many of the downtown merchants have valid ideas on how to correct the problems, both Mullins and Huff said, if a parking authority is formed, they hope it would be composed of downtown business people.

&uot;I hope those people that are most affected would be willing to serve,&uot; Huff said.

Huff said he had intended to ask the board to make the two-hour space &uot;open&uot; permanently next week, but will now wait until a decision is made on the parking authority.

&uot;I don’t think it’s fair to go ahead and make the decision if a parking authority is going to be formed,&uot; Huff said.