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Officials: Downtown parking key to economic growth

METRO WEST DAILY NEWS – Peering outside the Horseshoe Pub into a nearby public parking lot and down South Street on a recent Monday afternoon, Nick Pizzamento was hard pressed to find a parking space near his Hudson restaurant.

A lack of parking in downtown Hudson is not just an issue on weekday afternoons, as Pizzamento said the lot next to his restaurant is constantly filled and on-street parking is limited in front of his eatery on South Street.

“I can poke my head out there every day of the week and there’s no parking,” said Pizzamento.

While the booths and tables at the Horseshoe Pub are often filled seven days a week, Pizzamento said the restaurant could be even busier if more parking was readily available.

“If there’s nowhere to park (customers) think you’re busy and leave,” Pizzamento said. “I see money just dwindling away not only for us, but everybody in town. We need parking as soon as possible.”

Hudson and many other MetroWest and Milford-area towns are studying ways to improve parking downtown by either investigating areas to build garages or lots or looking at ways to better utilize the current parking stock to help bring customers to local businesses to help them thrive.

Tim Cummings: "Marlborough is fortunate to have parking garages readily available to merchants in the downtown."

“It’s a hot topic right now,” said Michelle Ciccolo, Hudson community and economic development director. “It’s time to take a fresh look.”

In Franklin, the Town Council is considering removing downtown parking meters and changing parking restrictions in an attempt to bring more customers to area restaurants and shops, said Town Administrator Jeffrey Nutting.

Earlier this month, Nutting requested the council eliminate the meters in favor of a new two-hour parking policy during the week, which he hopes will bring more traffic downtown.

“Thursday, Friday and Saturday night the place is jammed,” he said. “Part of the plan is to better utilize existing spaces.”

Nutting also proposed limiting the hours for commuter rail parking and creating permits to sell to area business owners.

Downtown parking has been a decades-long issue in Natick. When many of the town’s historical downtown buildings were constructed, cars were not on the road yet, so there was no need to build parking lots, said Patrick Reffett, community development director.

“It’s been a real gap for property owners,” said Reffett. “You can’t expect a building to be fully occupied if it doesn’t have parking.”

While Natick has a handful of public parking lots, including the Pond Street lot and a lot adjacent to Town Hall, as well as metered on-street parking, Artie Fair, of the Natick Center Associates, said customers have difficulty finding parking near downtown businesses during peak times and often times go elsewhere.

“There are certain days of the week you’re hard pressed to find parking,” he said. “They have choices. They get into the mode of not coming down here.”

To ease the longtime problem, town officials are working on a request for proposals for a private developer to construct downtown parking in conjunction with a private development.

Reffett filed a RFP with selectmen last week asking developers to create 200 public spaces on town-owned land on Middlesex Avenue and 350 spaces on town land on South Avenue.

Jessica Robertson, transportation coordinator for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said in many cases there’s a perception there’s a lack of downtown parking when in fact there’s a sufficient supply and residents choose not to use some lots because they have to walk too far to their destinations.

“We do have parking product out there, but it’s not always in the most convenient spaces,” said Reffett.

Some towns, such as Hudson, are studying ways to make their communities more walkable to make customers more comfortable parking farther away from the shops they plan to visit.

“The average person typically tries to find a spot as close to their destination as possible,” said Robertson. “If it’s a vibrant downtown with streetscapes and crosswalks, people won’t mind parking a few blocks away.”

In some cases, however, cities and towns have the land and funding for a garage or lot and need the parking spaces.

Constructing two parking garages behind City Hall in the 1990s eased Marlborough’s parking problems, said City Council President Patricia Pope.

The city has about 900 free public parking spaces spread among the two garages, which Pope said are only about 50 percent full during peak times, as well as municipal lots on Main Street and at the Immaculate Conception Church, and on-street parking.

“It’s really not an issue for us,” said Pope. “We have more than ample parking in downtown.”

Despite a bevy of parking spaces, Pope and Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, said the city is continuing to look at ways to improve parking by improving aesthetics around municipal lots to ensure downtown customers feel safe walking from their cars to their destinations.

“Marlborough is fortunate to have parking garages readily available to merchants in the downtown,” said Cummings. “We need to capitalize on using this infrastructure effectively, which means providing better lighting, especially at night.”

Framingham and Milford are also not experiencing a parking crunch thanks to a handful of municipal lots and on-street parking downtown.

“We do have quite a bit of parking downtown,” said Amanda Loomis, Framingham Planning Board administrator.

By improving the parking stock, many town officials say aspiring business owners will be more interested in moving downtown, filling vacancies and helping the communities grow.

“We’re seeing a great interest in the downtown,” said Arthur Robert, Framingham community development director. “Most businesses want their customers to have access to those spaces.”

This article by Jeff Malachowski originally appeared here.

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