By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – Restaurant owners say tight parking near the Square is already turning away customers and that fee-based parking may deter them further.
“There have been noticeably fewer pedestrians on the Square this past year, and all the prime parking spaces are still taken,” restaurant owner Jerry Jordan said. “Customers and friends regularly tell owners they would patronize us more often or that they don’t patronize us at all because parking is such a hassle.”
Jordan, a spokesman for the Oxford Restaurant Association, made his remarks before the Downtown Parking Commission on Friday.
Oxford officials have studied the issue for several years, resulting in proposals as varied as shuttles, new parking lots, charging for storefront parking and beefed-up enforcement of existing regulations.
Mayor Pat Patterson, a longtime downtown merchant, told Jordan that much of the congestion comes from people employed near the Square.
“Downtown business owners have some responsibility to make sure their employees don’t take up prime parking spaces,” he said. “If I have an employee who won’t honor that, they can’t work for me.”
The most ambitious idea embraced by leaders is the eventual construction of a multi-story parking garage – one that Jordan said his fellow restaurateurs embrace.
With a likely location identified behind City Hall, the biggest challenge a parking garage presents now is its cost.
“Restaurant and bar owners do not buy that a parking garage has to be self-sustaining,” Jordan said, noting that either tourism tax or hospital proceeds could furnish the funding.
Among other suggestions, Jordan said restaurant owners would like to keep the two-hour limit on streetside parking, extending enforcement hours to evening hours, reinstating some eliminated parking spaces and opening loading zones to parking after 5 p.m.
Patterson noted that a shortage of parking reflects a vibrant downtown.
“Isn’t it good to be working on these kinds of problems?” he said. “It could be the other way around.”