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Sally Johnson recently got her hands — or rather, wheels — on a prized possession: a leased downtown parking spot in a city-owned lot at Sixth and Franklin streets. Cost: $35 per month.
For months, Johnson had to arrive at work long before her shift began to make sure that she could find a free, all-day parking spot. On days when she worked a second job before coming downtown, she typically struggled to find a spot outside areas that limit parking to three hours.
Johnson, manager at the F.C. Tucker office at 430 Washington St., said she cannot afford to lease a spot in the publicly owned parking garage on Jackson Street, which costs between $50 and $80 per month.
“I was on the waiting list for six months,” Johnson said.
Johnson and other downtown workers who do not have an employer-provided parking lot or garage have become exceedingly frustrated about having to fight, nearly every day, to find a free, all-day parking spot.
Aside from the 430 all-day parking spots, parking elsewhere in the city’s center is limited to three hours per vehicle. That means moving a vehicle from one three-hour spot in downtown to a different three-hour spot downtown still will get you a warning or, on subsequent offenses, a ticket.
The three-hour limit prevents people from blocking downtown parking spots for the whole day, including prime shopping hours, which would require patrons of downtown businesses to park farther away and likely would reduce sales.
To some extent, the city’s parking pains stem from its vibrancy.
Downtown Columbus has seen significant growth in the past few years.
Cummins Inc., fueled by its global successes and record revenues and profits, has placed hundreds of new employees into old and new offices in the city’s center. New apartments, businesses and restaurants have followed.
And though three downtown parking garages have added more than 2,000 parking spots in the past decade, none of those provides free, unlimited parking; and only one provides public parking during the daytime at all.
n The biggest garage, with more than 900 spots, on Jackson Street between Sixth and Seventh streets, is owned by Cummins and not available to the public.
n The garage west of the courthouse, which has 700 spots, is owned by the city, but its spots have been leased by Cummins and tenants of the apartments around the garage, meaning none of those spots are available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The 500 Cummins spots are available to the public outside those hours.
n And of the 400 spots in the Jackson Street garage, 300 are leased by individuals, the U.S. Postal Service and businesses including Cummins and SIHO. That leaves 100 spots for public use but limited to three hours per vehicle per day.
That means downtown employees such as Johnson cannot park in any of the garages nor on many downtown streets, where parking also is limited to three hours.
Columbus Postmaster Terry Muir said the post office needs the 75 spots in the Jackson Street garage for its 103 employees, because the post office has no on-site parking for employees.
Muir said the customer lot on the property’s south side often is full, especially at lunchtime when people try to run a quick errand before or after eating.
Muir said the lot sometimes is full even when the post office has no customers, meaning people park in the post office customer lot even though their business is elsewhere.
Maryka Napier, a server at Bistro 310, said she sometimes tries to avoid getting a ticket by taking a chance with parking in a nearby business lot.
Napier, who works a four-hour shift in the middle of the day, said she cannot park somewhere for three hours and then run out of the restaurant in the middle of her shift to find a new parking spot.
She has worked for almost a year at the restaurant, which, ironically, is located in the Fourth Street parking garage.
But she said that when she worked in downtown Columbus 15 years ago she had the same problem with a three-hour parking limit, racking up hundreds of dollars worth of fines.
“Nothing’s changed,” she said.
Next door, at The Garage Pub & Grill, server Megan Martindale runs into the same issues. She works a four-hour shift five days a week, commuting to Columbus from Brownstown, 30 miles each way.
She works in Columbus because Brownstown offers few jobs, she said. But on a bad day in Columbus, she might leave the restaurant with $10 in tips. If she gets a $10 parking ticket, as she did three weeks ago, she will have worked for nothing — and is out the gas money.
Martindale said she has gotten a warning and two tickets, even though she parked on the Jackson Street parking garage roof, which previously had been tolerated by city officials.
Hardly anyone parks on the roof, she said, because people don’t want to walk the extra stairs.
Downtown workers and business owners say the parking predicament is being magnified by wastefulness of government and corporate employees who have designated downtown spots or lots but use public spaces closer to their offices.
That reduces the available parking for everyone who cannot park in a garage or leased lot, said Johnson, Martindale and Steve Leach, who owns The Garage Pub.
Laura DeDominic, a downtown landlord and business owner, said that while on-street parking and the public lots are full, she frequently can see from her office on Washington Street that the upper levels of the Cummins lot between Sixth and Seventh streets are empty.
Jon Mills, Cummins’ director of external communications, said the company is evaluating strategies to improve the situation.
“We’ve encouraged our employees a number of times and in the past few months to be good stewards of the public spaces so we do not interfere with our business partners downtown,” Mills said via email.
Leach said the lack of parking also is causing problems for downtown business owners.
For many employees, especially hourly employees who do not make a lot of money, even a $10 ticket can have a demoralizing effect, he said.
“It becomes a big recruiting issue,” he said.
Those workers play a critical role downtown, Leach said.
“Without them, nobody’s eating downtown. We’ve got to find a way to accommodate these people fairly.”
The parking shortage extends to business customers, said Tom Dell, a spokesman for the Downtown Merchants Association, which includes 25 businesses and organizations.
Customers have trouble finding parking spots especially at lunch, said Dell, who co-owns clothing store Dell Brothers Inc.
Lunch periods have shrunk over the decades, Dell said, and customers do not have time to look for a parking spot. If that happens, they typically leave; and they might not come back.
The garages have helped increase the total number of downtown parking spots, he said, but garages must be
just one of many approaches to address the parking shortage. In addition, the garages have not addressed the parking problems for
Dell said that businesses have had to deal with the problem for a long time. The merchants association meets every month, and the agenda usually includes parking.
He said parking has vexed local merchants since before he began working at the clothing store 40 years ago.
“It’s been going on for as long as I can remember,” he said.
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