By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The first few days of a new three-hour streetside parking limit in downtown Oxford have gotten positive reviews.
The Downtown Parking Commission voted to make the change last month after merchants, especially restaurateurs, complained that two hours was not long enough for visitors to have a meal and do a bit of shopping.
Such complaints began in November, when Standard Parking began enforcement of the decades-old two-hour limit in an effort to generate more opportunities for shoppers, diners and other visitors to find storefront spaces. Enforcement hours, previously 9 to 5, were extended to 8 to 8, and Saturday enforcement – a long-ignored part of the ordinance – was implemented.
“A young lady told me this was the first time in many years that her family was able to follow their vacation itinerary,” Greg Sisk, manager for Standard Parking, told members of the commission on Friday. “They were planning to spend three-and-a-half hours on the Square, and they were able to get to the Square, visit Rowan Oak, visit the farmers’ market and visit the university.”
“You can tell a difference on the Square,” added Commissioner Brum Elliott. “I came up here at 12:15 one day and got a parking space and ate lunch at Boure. Before, you wouldn’t have found a parking space.”
Some merchants and visitors had also asked that Saturday enforcement be dropped, but commissioners reinforced the aim Friday to direct long-term parkers to free lots near the Square.
“My thinking was that if we went to three-hour enforcement, that would take care of most of our problems with Saturdays,” said Commissioner Ron Hipp. “I don’t want to give up our ability to enforce on Saturdays. We’re going to have to control things on football Saturdays, and if you have too many rules and exceptions to rules, nobody knows the rules.”
“Once you become lax, it’s hard to enforce anything,” agreed Commissioner Larry Sparks.
One parking issue likely to arise this fall will be more football fans parking in town, because the University of Mississippi is under pressure to eliminate illegal parking that blocks walkways.
“We had over 800 cars along All-American Drive at the last football game, up on the sidewalks,” said Sparks, the University of Mississippi’s vice chancellor for administration and finance.
Ole Miss also will reserve its remaining spaces on game days to students who live on campus and to university donors.
Mayor Pat Patterson noted one remedy that the city and the university have worked out for the new shortage is to open nearly 1,000 parking spaces at the Oxford Conference Center to football fans and to have them shuttled to the stadium for Ole Miss’ seven home games.
“There’s this idea that we never talk to each other,” Patterson said, referring to an accusation from his opponent in his recent successful re-election bid.
“We’ve been talking to each other all spring.”