Parking is a sore spot for downtown Kingsport residents

Rick Wagner • Aug 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT - The arts, eateries and varied retail are within easy walking distance of downtown Kingsport loft apartments.

However, parking is a definite sore spot for new downtown residents Mickey and Susan Glover.

They are among a growing group of people who live downtown in the Model City.

"We can't park in front of our apartment," Mickey Glover said of a two-hour parking limit in effect during regular business hours near his Market Street loft and most of downtown.

As an artist, he enjoys the downtown outside art, art galleries and downtown concerns, not to mention the restaurants, antique stores and other retail.

But he also teaches online college art classes from a spare bedroom and this fall also will be a full-time instructor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, going there two days a week from about 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. But he generally will be home during the day the other five days of the week.

Susan Glover works an evening shift at Preston Place II, an assisted living facility. Her usual work hours are 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., meaning she is usually home in the mornings.

After a few parking tickets, Mickey Glover said a call to police suggested the couple use a free public parking lot a few blocks away, which can work sometimes but not when they have groceries or other items to carry up the flight of steps to their home.

In addition, the Glovers said that public works and police recently blocked downtown streets for a Fun Fest bicycling event with no warning to people who live downtown.

Jeff Fleming, assistant city manager of development, said city officials have received a lot of feedback about the need to notify businesses, residents and churches downtown about street closings and hope to make improvements in that regard.

However, Fleming and city transportation planning manager Bill Albright said living in an urban setting requires making adjustments about parking, saying that some people will walk a lot farther in an apartment complex or mall than they would shopping or living downtown.

Hounchell said parking has been not so much of a problem for him since he usually leaves home before 8 a.m. and returns around 5 p.m.

And Pat and Jerry Houchens, who occupy the third floor of their P & J Antiques downtown, simply use the free city parking lot immediately behind their building.

However, with downtown living on the upswing and the free lots not convenient to all units, Carson said he expects Kingsport officials soon will look at two proposals: issuing parking permits to people who live downtown and making sidewalk improvements downtown.

"I think that will be the next step you see, for the city to development downtown permit parking," Carson said.

Kingsport has free parking lots downtown. But based on living in downtown Philadelphia, Carson said he could envision a $35 or $40 annual permit for people who truly live downtown, giving them the ability to park in selected on-street parking areas without facing possible parking tickets.

The money from the permits could be earmarked for downtown parking and sidewalk improvements, Carson said.

Jack Qualls, city transportation planner, said the city's Parking Commission will discuss that issue at a meeting later this month. He's researched what other cities do and found, for instance, that Knoxville charges more than $125 a year for residential downtown parking permits.

"We're trying to be proactive," Qualls said. "We do see downtown as becoming more livable and more people are living downtown."

With 2,130 parking spaces downtown - 1,127 on street and 1,003 in parking lots - Qualls said the city is not quite ready for a parking garage downtown like Knoxville has. However, he said that could be a long-term solution, especially with the additional traffic the higher education center and allied health center will bring when they are supposed to open downtown in 2008.

Qualls said he also hopes part of the parking woes can be eased by the Mid-Town Shuttle Service in which city buses go from Holston Valley Medical Center to Eastman with stops throughout downtown.

It operates 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during the week for 25 cents a passenger, but he said if it proves successful it could be expanded to other hours and days.

"Kingsport is proactive and plans very well," said John Vachon, co-owner of Urban Synergy that buys, renovates and leases downtown businesses and loft spaces.

Still, his wife and business co-owner, Angela Vachon, said the city needs to set aside more residential parking downtown and consider easing 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. restrictions on downtown street parking to allow residential use.

However, the Vachons said scarce parking is a good problem to have. They said it means a vibrant and growing downtown.

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