Developer says parking change key to luring software firm to riverfront; Bank Street merchants also seek modification
By Chris Paschenko
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Luring a high-tech software firm to Decatur could entail one seemingly simple incentive: adding 21 parking spaces to a popular riverfront development.
Decatur developer Britt Sexton asked city leaders this week to install diagonal parking along Market Street Northeast, saying the software firm's only concern before signing a lease was adequate parking.
For the city, however, the Market Street parking issue, and another similar project on Bank Street, isn't as simple as digging up city right of way, building curbs and painting diagonal lines.
Sexton told Mark Petersohn, director of the city Engineering and Public Works departments, city planners and Councilmen Gary Hammon and David Bolding of a plan to create 21 diagonal parking spaces on the east side of Market Street between Line and Ferry streets.
Construction on Housing Authority of Decatur property, which is directly underneath power lines, could possibly be funded through a federal transportation grant because the spaces would improve automobile access to the Dr. Bill Sims Bike Trail.
Petersohn said the Market Street project would need a bit of traffic engineering to ensure public safety.
Market Street Northeast is a two-lane north/south road between Line and Ferry streets. But adding diagonal parking and changing the road into a one-way, southbound-only lane would mean north/south traffic would meet in the same lane at the four-way stop at Market and Ferry streets.
"We'd have to eliminate the head-on traffic situation," Petersohn said.
Sexton asked if the city could fund the project.
"That's a good question," Petersohn said. "Michelle Jordan has proposed a grant application for the intersection, but we will explore all alternatives for funding."
Jordan, head of the Community Development and Planning departments, was unavailable for comment Tuesday and Wednesday, and city leaders didn't place a price tag or time frame on the project.
"We need to straighten it out and extend the median down Market Street," Bolding said. "Sexton could develop here, but we need more parking. It's an economic growth issue for all of the riverfront, and we need to be on board. He's spent 10 years on this project. We can't afford to put this off."
The 21 diagonal spaces would add to a total of 110 spaces available to the development, which experiences parking difficulties during lunchtime, Sexton said.
Meanwhile, merchants on the west end of Bank Street, such as Axel Hein, owner of Bank Street Antiques and Books, have called for diagonal parking and signs placed on major thoroughfares alerting potential shoppers to the city's historic district.
Hammon, Bolding, Petersohn and planners met Tuesday on Bank Street to consider the situation. Bolding said the city's marketing firm, McWhorter Communications, is working on a design for the historic street signs.
"It's a good start," Hein said. "It's only taken eight years for a few yellow lines."
There are 52 parallel parking spaces on both sides of Bank Street, between Cain and Vine streets.
Petersohn said diagonal parking could increase the number of spaces on lower Bank Street by 20 percent, but concrete barriers are needed to protect private-drive and city-street access.
Hein said he would like to develop the west end of Bank Street next to his shop, but three factors are limiting his options: inadequate parking, limited alley access and an unattractive sidewalk.
"I've got 125 feet of street frontage, and I want to make an arcade with two buildings that are set back, a New Orleans-type thing where the buildings face in the middle."
Before Hein commits to the project, he said, he would be willing to help the city extend the historic lantern-like light posts, sidewalk and planters now present on the east end of Bank Street.
"I'd be willing to pay X-number of dollars to extend it — like upper Bank Street," Hein said, hinting that other merchants would also be inclined to participate.
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