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In a growing downtown, Manassas confronts its parking problems

MANASSAS — New signs designed to make it easier to find parking in Downtown Manassas could be installed before Christmas.

The new blue signs with a large “P” printed on them, the international symbol to denote vehicle parking, will replace the traditional brown signs that match other street signs in downtown.

The news came Tuesday morning August 29 as city officials met with a handful of business owners who showed up at CENTERFUSE to discuss the downtown parking situation at a special program called “To Park or Not to Park.” While there, business owners told leaders their customers preferred parking on street side parking spaces, many of which have time restriction of 15 minutes, two or four hours.

They also said they want to make the city’s downtown as friendly to drivers as possible to ensure shoppers and diners keep coming back.

“We’ve been here 11 months, and 65 percent of our customers, based on credit card receipts, are new customers,” said Deron Blevins, of Shining Sol Candle Company, located on Center Street.

He, like Okras restaurant owner Charles Gilliam, fear a lack of parking, more towing, and new businesses opening outside of the city could drive business away from downtown.

“With 2 Silos Brewery getting ready to open on the outskirts of the city, we’ve been preparing for the temporary suck that will pull people away from downtown for a while they check out the new brewery,” said Gilliam.

Manassas Police Chief Douglas Keen said his officers conduct parking enforcement middays after 10 a.m. The department’s leading priority before parking enforcement is putting crossing guards at key intersections during the mornings and afternoons to ensure school children cross safely and get to class and back home again.

Keen also spoke of visitors’ expectations of finding plenty of open parking spaces in the city and changing that expectation as the city grows.

“I’ve lived here a long time, and when I go to Old Town Alexandria I don’t expect to find easy open parking,” said Keen. “Developing downtown is something that we as a city are invested in doing, and maybe it’s time to change the parking expectation.”

Economic Development Director Patrick Small said the plan for the city’s downtown is to increase density, not add more parking spaces. Properties like the Olde Towne Inn, BB&T bank, and the former Cramer’s Music Center turned worship temple are all ripe for redevelopment, without surface parking lots.

“I would love for there to be a parking crisis in downtown,” said Small. “That means your stores and restaurants are full, and the city would have to find funding for a new parking garage to meet the demand.”

A new planned downtown parking garage would be located on the north side of the railroad tracks to compliment the existing parking deck next to the city’s train station. Becuase existing structure is rarely full; a second deck is currently considered a “luxury’ by city leaders who have not moved ahead with plans to fund the garage.

Officials reminded visitors that parking in the red spaces inside the garage is free all day after 10 a.m., no permit required. They also said they would explore remarking the garage to denote the red spaces, as well as other parking to inlcude four-hour parking on the garage’s second floor.

A 2015 online survey of 195 respondents said city visitors preferred to park in one of the 184 street side parking spaces downtown, not in a garage. City leaders said the busiest time for parking in the city is between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays, as visitors have lunch and shop in stores.

To free up more street side parking spaces, city leaders suggested business owners be “good neighbors” and ask their employees to park in the blue permit parking lot at the corner of Main and Prince William streets, and walk two blocks to work.

“Employees will move spaces. It does happen. We’ve sat and watched it, and there’s nothing illegal about it, but employees parking on streets takes up visitor parking,” said Keen.

Earlier this summer, BB&T ordered cars towed that used its parking lot after 5 p.m. or the cars of drivers who parked in the lot but did not conduct business inside the bank.

Gilliam said his customer’s ability to use the bank parking lot is key to his business. He urged city leaders work out a deal with the bank to allow visitors to use the lot on nights and weekends.

“Every attempt at a conversation on that matter would be worth it,” he said.

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  • scavok

    How about charging non-residents for commuter parking passes? That would probably free up some space in the garage during the day and bring in some revenue, but might hurt morning and happy hour sales.

    Bus service would also be nice. I’d almost certainly spend more money downtown and have a few more drinks if I could take a bus and didn’t need to drive or pay for an uber. I bet you could have a really nice bus service running for much less than the cost of another parking garage that will be useless in the next 10-15 years as cars become autonomous and uber/lyft type services become cheaper than owning.

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