Should local government be in the parking business?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 7, 2004

As many of the long-range projects downtown are coming to fruition, many have raised the question of, Where will all of those visiting these venues park?

While this need has been known for sometime by our City Management, it is very interesting to see how they have proposed to solve it.

Their preferred solution is to build a multi-million dollar parking garage.

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This however is clearly the wrong way to look at the issue.

The need identified is not just for parking spaces, but parking spaces near the places to be visited and that will not be met by a large parking garage downtown.

It should also be noted, that the City is not in nor should they enter into the parking garage business anymore than they should have entered into the Hotel business. Some might say that such a proposal is visionary, however more would describe it as a conundrum that should receive a vocal &uot;Thumbs-down&uot;!

It was fortuitous that the City Council chose to hold their &uot;out of town retreat&uot; in Williamsburg, because they could directly see how costly a parking garage would be in such a setting.

To date the garage built by the City of Williamsburg, in an area similar in nature to our downtown, has only about one-forth of the forecasted use and is hemorrhaging public money badly. The myth fostered by our City Management, that a parking garage will fix all that ails downtown is both shallow and foolish.

We presently have several public parking lots that are never full. If we build a large multi-million dollar parking garage, why would anyone expect that it would work any better than the existing empty lots or the garage in Williamsburg?

There is no conveniently located place that could serve those wishing to park and it would most likely be as huge a failure as in Williamsburg.

This project utilizes the same worn methodology used to convince Council and the citizenry to pour more money into downtown, as a contrived cost-benefit slight of hand by City Management.

The story told concerning the values of such a scheme have proven too often to be nothing more than painful fairytales, to concentrate public funds for a poorly planned downtown renewal.

The real agenda is a program to spend a disproportionate amount of money downtown.

With such faulty logic and broken promises, many have turned their backs on the process of city governance.

They believe that it will have little if any real effect.

Unfortunately, this has enabled foolish projects to flourish while real needs go wanting.

Most citizens have been told that they must wait for a fair opportunity to see their part of the city benefit and are getting angry about it.

This is not to say that some, who feel a direct obligation to take action, have been silent.

Some citizens have been driven to express their opinion via billboards, vocal expressions at council meetings, or other direct efforts to save their communities and unique histories.

Perhaps the most telling expression of the frustration felt in the south-end of the city is the turnout at the recent VDOT and 2018 Comprehensive Plan Meetings.

With these unfair and unbalanced proposals spun-out of City Hall, we will most likely see further expressions of dissatisfaction by the citizens concerning the methods and tact of City Management.

The old guard, who championed the failed growth patterns laid out five years ago under the UDO, have slowly come to realize that their assumptions do not have any validity.

With so much growth going north and with a more active expression by the citizens of what the &uot;Rural South&uot; should look like, old paradigms are shifting.

Will our leadership and management finally &uot;get it?&uot;

Will they see that it is more important to fully fund schools, to plan and build roads and utilities much faster than they have, and work toward more realistic economic development in our real growth areas, rather than downtown?

If so, they must realize what the citizens have for some time.

That spending scarce resources on foolish hotels and marinas, parking garages, golf courses, and exclusive clubhouses, is poor public policy.

The real issues that have yet to be fully articulated by anyone on City Council include; why as a community would we place a higher value on a hotel than a new high school?

Why do we have such an inadequate vision of how to care for our indigent and poor, when we can spend millions on a Cultural Arts Center?

Why are our teachers, police, fire, and other valuable city employees treated so poorly, when there are millions spent on pet projects that will only benefit a limited number of our citizens?

Until these questions are revealed and placed into the vernacular of our local government dialog, our community suffers.

By this time next year, we will be making preparations to elect four of our seven city council members.

Perhaps this will be the opportunity to demand some real change in both city management and council to restore faith in local governance.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist.