It may be time for the city to look at building a parking structure to meet future demand in the downtown, a consultant told city officials recently.

And some downtown merchants are thrilled with the idea of city employees consolidating their parking in one area, and thereby opening up ground-level spaces for more shoppers.

Downtown’s newest restaurant, Arden’s Place, has proven popular at lunchtime, but owner Mary Jane Rapp Close sees a need for more parking near Broadway if her business is to grow.

“I can see my business being incredible down there and really bringing a lot of people to go shopping before and after work,” Rapp Close said. “But it’s impossible right now.”

Many have phoned the longtime restaurant owner, who also operates Nickelletes on May Avenue, to say they can’t find parking to get into her restaurant.

“Lunch is not anything what I expected,” Rapp Close said. “There’s one rush, but I need two more.”

The problem is the 12:30 p.m. lunch patron comes downtown and cannot find parking because the early crowd is still there. Others are trying to plan meetings at the restaurant, but have complained to her of having to park 2 1/2 blocks or more away.

Rapp Close is hopeful the city will consider the parking garage idea.

Ken Morris of the Benham Group reported to the Central Edmond Urban Development Board that a May 5 daytime parking study from Fifth Street north to Thatcher showed some downtown parking lots nearing or exceeding capacity while the parking lot off Main Street and west of Broadway receives little use. The report also includes a noon-time study of the area.

“Parking is sufficient for a normal business day,” Morris said.

However, downtown is home to large events throughout the year. The parking study occurred during the Downtown Arts Festival and the consultants found visitors parking all the way to Ayers and as far north as the Post Office on Broadway.

And the future promises 1-2 percent annual growth in daily parking needs, Morris projected.

“If people were willing to walk six blocks or eight blocks or more, there probably would be plenty of parking, but we know most people aren’t going to walk more than a block or two. There’s plenty of parking, but there will be much more demand in the future,” he said.

Long-term options presented by the consultant include adding parking meters downtown and parking limits, which would require enforcement. Assistant Police Chief Steve Thompson said parking meters would force the department to hire at least one more officer to manage them.

“This may be extreme,” Morris said. “But at some point in time, (with) the density in the downtown area you may need to be able to turnover parkers.”

Another suggestion is designated spaces for carpoolers.

“If gas prices get to $5 a gallon, I’ll bet you’ll see a lot more carpoolers,” Morris said.

A lot of what the city determines will hinge upon the Police Department’s master planning process, for which a draft report is due in two weeks from the Benham Group.

Thompson said the report will help the department determine its facility needs for the next 25 years. For example, the municipal jail was built for Edmond’s 1980 population but in the last three years, arrests have gone up 129 percent, Thompson said.

Already, the department has 100-110 daily parking space needs for patrol cars and other vehicles. Thompson said the department would like to find a more secure way of parking those vehicles, and likes the idea of a city employee parking garage for that purpose.

There are about 200 employees total working at the city’s downtown campus, said Clay Coldiron, director of Public Works.

That fact led Ward 3 City Councilman Charles Lamb to suggest the city and the urban board may want to look at the parking needs of the downtown municipal campus first before discussing putting a public-use parking garage elsewhere.

“If it were primarily for employees, it would free up ground parking for retail,” Lamb said.

Urban board member Brianne Wallace also suggested if the city builds a parking garage, it could leave the bottom floor open for retail space and perhaps have room for a larger restaurant with parking on upper levels.

“I think (a parking garage) can be justified for city employees to use it,” she said Wednesday.

Walllace brought up one concern with the parking study in that “parking has changed significantly (along Broadway) due to adding a restaurant in August,” she said. She urged the urban board to take that into consideration when reviewing the parking study.

No cost estimates for a parking garage have been discussed other than Coldiron saying earlier research showed a cost of about $12,000 per parking space.

No timetable has been set for more discussions on a parking garage, and at this point funding for such a project is not identified either. However, merchants who have spoken with Downtown Edmond Business Association representative Leah Kessler have told her they favor the parking garage idea.

“I thought the study was well done and I think a parking garage is great,” Kessler said.

(Lisa Shearer may be reached via e-mail at lshearer@edmondsun.com.)

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