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Parking in downtown upsets business owners

About 10 business owners on Railroad Street met with Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry and City Administrator Don Powers on Monday to discuss work that will change traffic and parking on Railroad Street.

"We are not trying to hurt anybody or any business," Usry said. "We are trying to have more folks downtown. We are going to listen to what you have to say."

Two TE grants awarded in 2006 and 2008 to the city for $800,000 are for reconfiguration and streetscape improvements of Railroad Street and renovations of the Depot. The city's matching share of the grants is $200,000, bringing the total amount of the project to $1 million.

"I'm tickled to death you are doing something with the Depot. That's our civic center," said Bob Wilson, the owner of the Wilson Co. "But taking away our parking spaces does not do anything to create commerce and promote growth."

Railroad Street surrounds a parking lot centered by a median for the Depot and businesses on the street. The parking lot accommodates spaces for 96 vehicles. Plans by The Jaeger Co. of the proposed concept depict Railroad Street as a two-way street where the median is, with 20 angled parking spaces beside the Depot, 18 parallel spaces along the curbing in front of the businesses, and 37 spaces behind the Depot Annex. The plan includes 21 additional spaces in a new parking lot on Greenway Street.

If the plan is adopted, the area will maintain the same amount of parking as before, but with an aesthetically pleasing streetscape.

Business owners expressed concern the proposed layout will mean their customers will have to walk too far, and could hurt business. Usry said the plan will encourage people to walk more, which "will not hurt anybody."

"I agree walking is good," said Nether Ivery, owner of Ivery's Restaurant. "But, I've got customers who are 70-80 years old. I save a space for some of them when I know they are coming."

Some said parking is not adequate since Hogie Joe's restaurant opened last week or when the Depot has an event. It's a Southern Thing owner Frankie Galbreath suggested making sidewalks smaller, building a parking garage, or making Railroad Street a one-way street to create more parking.

"Not enough parking is a good problem, because that means more business, growth and progress," Mr. Wilson said.

Amy Kiel, co-owner of Hogie Joe's, expressed concern about safety for her employees and customers walking along Greenway Street late at night.

"It's not safe now because it's a construction site," Mr. Powers said. "But it will be lit up when it's finished. It'll be safe."

Usry said the city is concerned about traffic flow after the new government complex is in operation. He said the complex should bring several hundred more cars daily to the Railroad Street/Main Street/Greenway Street area.

Regional Development Center grant writer Anne Floyd said the grant pays for pedestrian safety, sidewalks and crosswalks. It does not fund asphalt and parking lots. Changes to the plan must be approved by the Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, Federal Highway Division and other environmental agencies.

"We'll go back to the drawing board with the plans," Mr. Powers said after hearing concerns.

Web posted on Thursday, April 22, 2010

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