Parking a hot button issue in McDonough

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

How can businesses survive in downtown McDonough if their customers cannot find a place to park?

That question was raised last Thursday night at the City Council’s workshop meeting by several local merchants, who were told by city officials that they are working on a solution to the problem.

Diane Harris presented the council with a petition that she said has about 900 signatures. She has been soliciting comments from customers at her business, The Lunchbox, and hearing from would-be patrons who cannot take the time to eat at her establishment because of the lack of parking.

“My restaurant is suffering because people just can’t get there,” she said. “Are we going to do something or will we just have to shut our doors?”

Harris’ daughter, who works with her at the restaurant, echoed those sentiments as she relayed tales of continuous phone calls from customers asking where to park, as well as those who reported circling the Square multiple times without finding a space and having to go somewhere else because of limited time for lunch.

Another problem for some is the two-hour time limit for the parking meters. Kathy Toney, who owns a salon on the Square, said many of her customers require services that take more than two hours and it is not practical to make extra trips outside just to feed the meter again. Some have been ticketed because of this, she added, including an elderly client who couldn’t find the municipal court building to pay her fine because the ticket listed the old address for the court.

“I have a lot of elderly clients,” she said. “To ask them to use the parking garage and walk all the way over to my salon is not possible for them.”

The day of the council meeting, three of Toney’s five clients reported parking issues, she said.

One of the issues that has many local merchants concerned is a parking lot just off the Square that is closed to the public. Councilman Craig Elrod said the city has tried to acquire that site, making an offer above the appraised price, but could not reach a deal with the owner.

We’re trying to get creative,” he said. “We’re working on it. I know that doesn’t help you today or tomorrow, but we are working on it.”

As for the meters, the city is looking at possible upgrades including meters that are wifi-enabled and can allow motorists to add money via their smartphones to avoid multiple trips back to insert coins manually. To do that, the city will have to improve its wifi service in some pockets of the area, as Elrod acknowledged it is not working in certain businesses.

“One thing we know is that the meters are a necessity,” said Elrod. “Over the years when they’ve been taken out, it has killed the Square. Jurors and courthouse employees would use those spaces all day long.”

City administrator Keith Dickerson agreed that the parking situation on the Square is a top priority for city officials.

“It’s important for us to get this right,” he said, adding that the city is looking at the possibility of approving another building in the area that would bring more people to the Square. “We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”