By editorial board • 

Parking poses a challenge, but it's not insurmountable

Eventually, McMinnville is going to have to acquire a suitable site for a second downtown parking structure and raise the money to fund construction.

Already, the Atticus Hotel and Allegory Brewery are spurring new commercial interest along Fourth Street, which has the potential to duplicate Third. Meanwhile, a surge of public and private investment, and growing pot of urban renewal money, are boosting appeal in the Granary District and Alpine Avenue.

Northward expansion will eventually create an insatiable demand for additional parking, and it won’t come cheap. Portland’s Rick Williams Consulting says the rough rule is $30,000 per space, which works out to $3 million for 100 or $9 million for 300.

Such a sum is by no means out of reach in a city where voters have approved a series of multi-million-dollar school, park and street bonds. But it’s not chump change either, and tomorrow’s costs figure to be exponentially higher than today’s.

Fortunately, we’re not there yet. And an early read suggests we can probably delay the inevitable significantly by more astutely managing resources already available and finding new ones through innovative public-private partnerships.

Williams was contracted to conduct a parking study for the city. The firm has not yet presented recommendations, but an exchange with stakeholders Tuesday suggests the broad outlines:

n Add lighting, signage and curb appeal to make the existing structure more inviting. To realize its full potential, we will need to evict the transients squatting on the second level as well, and perhaps limit county employees to that level in order to free ground-level space.

n Expand the downtown core’s two-hour zone and police it more diligently. Despite a remarkably lenient regulatory climate, Williams says our violation rate is about double the norm. So we probably need to look at stricter enforcement of tougher rules going forward.

n Consider tighter restrictions on employee parking. Salem has established a database of downtown employees, relegated them to off-street lots and adopted a no-excuses enforcement regimen. That policy seems extreme for Mac, but perhaps some middle ground is in order.

n Make provision for residential parking that serves the need more effectively without cutting into the inventory of coveted on-street spaces. The city’s current program has been so poorly advertised, it has only half a dozen users.

n Approach churches — and perhaps major employers like Oregon Mutual Insurance — about shared-use agreements for time periods where their need is low and the city’s high. Maximizing the resource just makes good sense.

n Consider two-tier management of handicapped spaces, limiting a portion to chair-bound users. Williams said that’s made a big difference in Portland.

In the big picture, a parking problem is a great thing to have. After all, it’s much harder to resurrect a dead downtown than make it easier to visit a vibrant one. We just need a set of strategies designed to address parking needs on both a short- and long-term basis.

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