For much of the past month, drivers planning a quick trip to downtown Rock Hill have not only had to contend with other vehicles in the main public parking lot on White Street, but also with chain link fences, a construction trailer and piles of building supplies.
On Aug. 4, construction of the new 139 Main Street apartment building began on the south side of the White Street parking lot, and 30 parking spaces were set aside as a construction staging area, closing off almost one-sixth of the parking options to downtown visitors and the businesses catering to them.
In addition to that, some spaces in the White Street lot will be set aside as residential parking once the new apartments open, with the possibility of more residential buildings going up in the downtown business district.
The construction work and increased demand are raising concerns about what parking options will be available in the downtown area going forward.
Some say parking is already so tight on White Street that the city should pull the trigger on a long-discussed solution to downtown parking woes – replacing the open-air lot with a multi-story parking garage.
Most downtown business owners contacted for this story said they haven’t heard any complaints from customers about finding parking in the midst of the construction, but they wonder if that will remain the case.
Jon Fortes, owner of Flipside Cafe on Caldwell Street, says the end of summer is a slower period in the restaurant business, but he thinks parking could become an issue as more people come downtown during the fall holiday season. His main concern now is the safety of his employees, who now have to park farther away from the restaurant and might not leave work until 1 a.m.
“We’ve had a couple issues with people hitting up patrons in the alleyway” between the parking lot and Caldwell Street, Fortes said. Usually someone will watch from the doorway as employees head to their cars nearby, he said, but as his workers have had to use other lots, “we’ve started using the buddy system.”
Richard McCluskey, owner of Song’s Fashion on Main Street, worries the growth in residential housing downtown will cut into the available parking spaces for the public.
When the apartments at 139 Main are completed, Rock Hill will set aside 40 parking spaces for residents on nights and weekends. A recently-approved apartment building on the corner of East Main and Dave Lyle Boulevard could lead to 100 parking spaces being reserved in the Black Street parking deck behind the future apartment site.
Those spaces would be open only to vehicles displaying a residential sticker between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. weeknights and all day on weekends.
“A lot of restaurants downtown are open until 9 or 10 o’clock at night,” McCluskey said. “And do (city officials) not think businesses are open on Saturday?... That could be a problem in the future.”
The best measure of success we could have is a parking problem downtown.
Stephen Turner, Rock Hill Economic Development Director
But others think the short-term problems of closing the parking lot are outweighed by the benefits of new construction downtown. Jason Broadwater, owner of Revenflo Web Team on Caldwell Street, is hopeful that any development that grows the residential footprint in downtown Rock Hill ultimately will benefit businesses.
“I’m really excited to see the growth downtown,” Broadwater said. “Any construction here is good news.”
The work on White Street sometimes forces him to park farther away from his business, Broadwater said, but downtown Rock Hill is a nice area to walk through. As downtown grows, though, he thinks more will need to be done about the parking situation on White Street.
“They need to put in a parking garage,” he said.
Dottie France, association executive of the Piedmont Association of Realtors, said she has heard guests comment on the construction when they use the lot for events in the Realtors’ Palmetto Room facility. The Palmetto Room and the Realtors’ White Street building are next door to the lot where the apartments are going up.
“It’s right at our door,” said France, who also wants to see a parking garage on the White Street site.
Parking options are becoming more limited, she said, especially with another apartment building proposed for the other side of Main Street and Fountain Park having been built over another downtown lot. Many visitors from out of town don’t know where to find parking when they come downtown.
“That’s probably five years down the road,” she said of a White Street parking garage. “It would behoove (the city), because people won’t come downtown if there’s no place to park.”
It might not take that long for the parking deck to become reality.
Stephen Turner, Rock Hill’s economic development director, said the city has had a White Street garage in the planning stages for a number of years. Sketches of a multi-level deck can be found in a 2007 feasibility study the city commissioned.
Those plans envision something more complex than the city’s two-level parking deck on Black Street across from the Rock Hill Law Center, and more like the Elizabeth Lane garage built as part of the Fountain Park project. If any more growth or construction comes into the surrounding area, the city could begin the planning process for the parking deck in earnest.
“The next significant development on that side of downtown will probably trigger it,” Turner said.
Rock Hill hopes continued growth will create more construction on the “edges” of the Main Street corridor – White and Black streets, as well as along Dave Lyle Boulevard, among other neighboring streets – and that will leave the city fewer options for parking except to build up.
That would be great as far as Broadwater is concerned. He has spoken to business organizations in other cities that are struggling with downtown revitalization, and would love to have to think about how to accommodate more parking in the main business district.
“This is what progress looks like,” Broadwater said.
For that reason, economic development officials hope parking is an issue they have to talk more about in the future.
“The best measure of success we could have is a parking problem downtown,” Turner said.