RDA told that merchants need improved parking downtown

October 31, 2019 GMT

The lack of parking in downtown Watertown has raised the ire of some local downtown businesses.

Property owners of the historical Schempf building, 207-209 E. Main St., recently voiced their displeasure of the downtown parking situation to the Reevelopment Authority during its meeting last Monday. They’re trying to satisfy customers who already had to travel some distance to get to the store.

Bill Lindborg, who purchased the property in 2014, has renovated the space with hopes to make the property an asset to the downtown area, according to Lindborg’s attorney Allen Larson. However, the parking issue made it difficult for Lindborg to obtain a tenant for his available larger spaces on the second and third floor.

“He can’t get a larger anchor tenant on the second or third floor which is about 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of space,” Larson said. “He needs to solve the parking issue to be able to get tenants.”

Larson voiced Lindborg’s concerns to the RDA during its meeting and the board decided to discuss the issue in future meetings. The RDA also asked that Lindborg present some ideas to the group to resolve the matter as well as let them know what sort of tenant he is looking for the space, as it would affect the parking. Although Larson and Lindborg have discussed some options, Larsen says it is difficult to know what kind of tenant can use the space without knowing the parking restrictions.

“It’s sort of like the chicken and the egg,” Lason said. “It’s hard to know which client can work when we can’t figure out parking. We would like to have the parking figured out first.”

Although the two do not have a preferred outcome for the space, residential apartments may be easier than a retail store or restaurant because it would need less spaces nearby, according to Larson.

Larson knows firsthand how the parking issue can affect a tenant’s decision as his business, Bender, Levi, Larson & Associates SC decided to not use one of the spaces in the Schempf building due to its lack of close parking when locating a new space last year.

“There wasn’t enough parking and it would be extremely difficult for our clients with limited mobility,” Larson said.

Lindborg’s current tenant, the pet store Pidder Padder Paws, which has its space on the first floor of the building, also has some issues with the parking.

“It’s an ugly situation,” Pidder Padder Paws owner Lisa Falk said. “We’re not getting people and we’re losing people so we are feeling that crunch.”

The store has occupied the space for the last two years and has lost many customers due to the lack of parking, according to Falk. Many of the spaces on the block are not currently used by her customers, according to Falk and makes her curious as to why the spaces in front of the building are always occupied.

“Where do our customers park? Nobody parks in the parking lots. Everybody uses Main Street and it’s an issue,” Falk said.

Connie Kemnitz, 67, frequents the store to get bags of Fromm’s dog food and treats for her dog. However, parking is an issue for her as the bags are typically heavy, including the 33-pound bag she recently purchased, which had to be carried to her car by an employee.

“I can’t carry that,” Kemnitz said pointing to the bag, “It’s too far for me to carry that and (this parking) is ridiculous.”

Falk understands that her business is a unique situation, especially when it comes to the size of products she has, but wants the city to be aware it may be difficult to attract more businesses to come to downtown.

“It’s not an easy fix, I get that,” Falk said. “They want businesses down here, but I hope those businesses don’t have things to carry.”

The RDA also wants to aid the downtown parking situation.

The RDA released a study of downtown parking in January 2018. According to the study, the Schempf building falls into a city zone that has 274 off-street parking spaces and 246 on-street parking spaces. However, there are only 29 public on-street parking spaces on the block the building is on.

The RDA believes the building is an important one and understand that parking is the biggest issue, according to RDA executive director to Kristen Fish.

“They have a need for spots and they need the spots to be more approximate,” Fish said. “The two stories each have 8,000 square feet that could be developed and it is important that the RDA understands the issue.”

The RDA is hoping to work with the city to monitor and enforce areas in the front of buildings to help aid in the issues, according to Fish. However, Fish does feel there is a misconception about parking that was shown in the parking study.

“Parking is important, but it’s also a perspective. If you’re parked far away at Walmart, but can see the door, it feels different than if you’re parked around the corner, even if its roughly the same distance,” Fish said. “We have to address it, but don’t want to create too much (parking).”