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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Marion city and chamber look to solve Uptown parking challenges
Plans include a parking partnership program with businesses and communicating little-known public lots for after hour use
MARION — As multiple city-transforming projects have come together in Uptown Marion over the past few years, the heart of the city is busier during the nights and weekends than it has been in recent memory.
The heightened activity is a sign of successful revitalization efforts and more than a decade of planning to build Marion’s center. The city and its partners now are turning their attention to parking, as there is more demand than before.
“There is no vibrant, active commercial area that doesn’t have parking challenges,” Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said. “To me, it’s a sign that Uptown Marion is successful. I would be worried if we had plenty of parking. Having said that, we do have to look at how to provide more options for parking and make it a more pleasant experience for people coming to Uptown Marion.”
The city will pursue a parking study with a consultant, most likely in the next fiscal year, while at the same time working with the chamber and businesses on a “Partners in Parking” program. The program provides more parking in businesses’ parking lots during their non-business hours in the Uptown area.
Main Street Director Brooke Prouty has been working with businesses like Hills Bank and Frydae to establish the program.
“A lot of the private lots know people are parking there during no business hours, so it’s their opportunity to formalize that,” Prouty said. “We will put up signs with information that has hours allowed to park on it. We’re hoping to roll that program out this summer and if it’s successful, we could expand to other parts of Marion where parking is limited.”
Prouty said that she calls the parking challenges in Uptown Marion — where parking is free — a “perception problem.”
“This also requires people to keep it in perspective because we all go to big box stores and park and are willing to walk the equivalent of several blocks in Uptown Marion. We can’t expect to park right in front of the business we’re visiting. That’s impossible for everyone to have. Most of us will have to expect to walk a block or two.”
City Manager Ryan Waller said the city and the Chamber of Commerce are taking inventory of the hundreds of parking spots available in the Uptown area and trying to do a better job of marketing that to residents and visitors.
“After hours, the City Hall and library parking lots are open for anybody who wants to park and walk to Uptown,” Waller said. “I have meetings up there all the time. It’s a quick walk. It’s a little dusty right now with Broad and Main construction and the upcoming plaza project, but the walk is easy and it’s going to become an even more beautiful walk.”
Prouty said most of the feedback she hears about parking comes from business owners who hear it from their customers. Currently, Uptown Marion has about 625 parking spaces, which includes City Hall and both library lots, which are available for public parking after hours.
“We’re arming the businesses with the opportunity to show patrons that there is more parking than it seems,” Prouty said. “People aren’t driving around the block and not finding anything, going back home. We don’t have people calling, saying they can’t find parking at all. It’s just sometimes difficult to find the parking.”
Kelsie Hoth, the owner of Frydae in Uptown Marion, said she as well believes the parking issue is a perception issue. She’s one of the businesses participating in Partners in Parking and she owns the lot on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 10th Street.
“It’s like the Ped Mall in Iowa City. You’re never going to go anywhere and have that feel and be able to park right outside the business you want to go to,” Hoth said. “People will have to get used to the changes with a busy historic downtown. I 100 percent think it’s a perception thing. There’s a lot of parking already in a very small area.”
The city also will install new wayfinding signage that includes distances to destinations.
“For example, a sign could say ‘City Square Park: 5 minute walk’ that way so that helps change the perspective on parking as well,” Prouty said.
Waller said the goal is to also incorporate the parking study into the upcoming budget. The city has been talking with consultants.
“Staff would try to be set and ready to go as we head into the really busy summer season. That’s when we want a consultant to really look at Uptown with all the activities,” Waller said. “That will help us identify strategies that we’re not currently doing while also looking at long term strategies that we can continue to work toward.”