I had the pleasure of attending a brainstorming session put on by Uptown Columbus to spin ideas on how to make our incredible downtown even better. My breakout group discussed marketing and communication. Oddly enough, the subject of parking in downtown kept bubbling up. It seems that the perception is that we don’t have enough parking in the downtown area.
Last night I had dinner at Chili Thai with an old friend from Hardaway High School. Glenn Dyer, who owns the restaurant with his wife,Rachanee Wareesri, came by our table with his bitch du jour (if you know Glenn, you’ll so get this). He started talking about how a lack of downtown parking had negatively affected his business. He specifically mentioned a party of 20 who got up and left because half of their party had not been able to find a parking place.
I looked up at him with a mouthful of those incomparable noodles and said, “Were they a bunch of big, fat old people?” He looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my head, and told me that no, they were young, active, healthy-looking people. I’m really confused by this. There is no parking problem downtown! What there is is an apparent unwillingness by our citizenry to grab a cherry parking spot in one of our many downtown parking garages and walk a couple of blocks to their destination.
Are you ready for the real parking story? Here it is: There are 1,616 on-street parking spaces from Bay Avenue to 3rd Avenue and from 9th Street to 13th Street in the city center. And, there are approximately 2,000 public spaces available in the Trade Center, RiverCenter, Front Avenue (W. C. Bradley), CB&T and Synovus parking decks. There is parking galore in downtown Columbus, Georgia! You have just got to be willing to get out and walk for a couple of blocks. A couple of blocks is a fun, healthful walk in our beautiful city. In any big city and in most small cities, parking is a real, real issue.
Several weeks ago, two of our sons, their mates and I went out to Denver for a long weekend. We went out every night and damn, that’s a town with a parking problem! Every little neighborhood has storefronts that are filled with galleries, shops, restaurants and bars and the only parking that is available is on-street parking and there’s very little of that. You’ve got to park and hump your way to your destination and when you get there, there is a crowd and a line to get in. Denver is positively alive and squirming with fun things to see and do, and people out there just accept that finding an up-close parking space is more difficult than winning the lottery. So, you park where you can and you walk. And walk. And walk, to get there.
Downtown Columbus is on a roll. We’re on the way to having a place that I’ve been dreaming about. Bustling with stellar, locally-owned restaurants supplied by local farmers, fun places to hang out, drink (responsibly) and party, interesting entertainment venues and museums and a diversity of languages, cultures and faces. All of this good stuff, surrounded by enough parking (if you’re not a lazy slob) to choke a horse. (Before you start throwing rocks at me, there is every opportunity, if you’re elderly, disabled or otherwise encumbered, to have a handicapped space available or to have someone — a purple people greeter — assist you with packages or a heavy load).
Growing takes guts and commitment. Part of that growth is changing our collective attitude about parking at the door of your destination. Those days are over. And well, they should be. Because next door, down the street and across the street from your destination are a bunch of other really cool places to see and things to do. This is the main reason why mainstreets are so fine. Unlike the concrete jungles of the suburbs, our lovely downtown is a cool, fun place to just BE. Get out and walk around, greet the people you see, get a plate of those awesome Drunken Noodles and revel in the goodness of one of our greatest public spaces.
Right in the middle of the writing of this blog post, Jill and I had the pleasure of an hour-long meeting Brian Anderson, our new Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. We have an incredible Chamber and I believe Brian has the experience and vision to lead by partnering with the area’s large corporations and by once and for all showing the smaller companies, which make up 80% of our community’s businesses, that a strong Chamber can create a rising tide that will allow us all to float upward. We had a refreshing, energetic conversation. Just the way I like it!