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Downtown spaces at a premium

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Vehicles parked on East Court Street in Franklin on Monday. City officials are looking into limiting parking to three hours along the street. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Vehicles parked on East Court Street in Franklin on Monday. City officials are looking into limiting parking to three hours along the street. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

One downtown Franklin business owner was so concerned about having enough parking spaces for customers that he filed a lawsuit against the county.

Franklin Coin Shop owner Tom Morrison’s customers often park along the west side of his building, since there are only four spaces on the street, and they’re usually full. The new county government building next door is taking up most of those spaces; and he’s concerned that if people can’t find nearby parking, they won’t stop to visit his shop or other nearby businesses.

Recently, he was able to work with the county to keep five one-hour parking spots that could be used by customers and dropped his lawsuit. But his concern remains: Without reliable parking for customers, downtown retail businesses can’t grow, he said.

Drivers can’t always park directly in front of the downtown shop or office they are visiting, but if people can walk a block or two, they have options, Franklin and Greenwood officials said. Franklin has about 400 public parking spaces within three blocks of the county courthouse. Greenwood has more than 300 spaces, most of which are in the public parking lot at Madison Avenue and Main Street.

In Franklin, finding an open space can be tough when court is in session on Mondays and Wednesdays or during Friday night movies at the Artcraft Theatre. Stop by a downtown coffee shop for lunch, and you may need to circle the block a time or two before finding a spot nearby. And during downtown festivals, expect to park on a side street and walk if you don’t get there early.

Parking isn’t as much of an issue in Greenwood, where the large lot near the new city building allows people to park and walk to shops, offices or ballroom, even during special events, city officials and business owners said.

Four hundred spaces should be enough parking for downtown Franklin, but only if spaces meant for customers and visitors to the courthouse aren’t being used by people who work downtown, Mayor Joe McGuinness said. The city plans to solve that problem by taking steps to reintroduce three-hour parking limits for spaces around the courthouse, he said.

Franklin and Johnson County officials also are discussing ways to free up more spots for visitors and customers and could conduct a new parking study to find ways to consolidate government parking, according to Commissioner Brian Baird and McGuinness.

“I think it’s what we need to do for the businesses,” McGuinness said. “They are dependent on those on-street parking spaces, and we need to provide them with that capability.”

Having a parking shortage is a good problem for Franklin because it shows that people are coming downtown to shop, do business or attend events, Franklin Heritage director Rob Shilts said.

Parking is becoming more of an issue as government continues to expand around shops and restaurants in Franklin, which is the county seat, Morrison said.

Workers will need to park at the new county offices in the former Key Bank building, as will people attending probation meetings.

“It kind of puts a cramp on parking as they’re coming into a retail area,” Morrison said.

The county does have some reserved spaces near each of its buildings, but there are public spots in those lots, Baird said. County officials could open up more spaces or move restricted spots if they can work with Franklin to figure out better places for those workers,

he said.

Franklin does have some larger public lots that are available downtown, such as at Water and Monroe streets, at Jackson and Jefferson streets and on North Main Street.

Franklin added about 100 spaces when it rebuilt downtown streets and parking lots last year, McGuinness said. If the county can figure out a way to demolish a former bank drive-through at its new building, the city potentially could add 20 spots there, he said.

Since Greenwood has a centralized, 250-space public lot at Madison Avenue and Main Street and three smaller lots nearby, downtown parking isn’t an issue, Mayor Mark Myers and planning director Bill Peeples said. Greenwood is discussing ways to revitalize its downtown, and having ample parking is a benefit that could help attract new business to the area, Myers said.

Even when Grafton Peek Ballroom hosts a large wedding reception or event, the nearby lot doesn’t get full and is just a short walk across the intersection, owner Jason West said. If people want to go to nearby shops, such as the train store or offices, they need to walk only a block or two to get there, West said.

People walk farther without even noticing if they need to park at the edge of the Greenwood Park Mall lot, he said.

But someone trying to make a quick stop might skip over a business if there isn’t nearby parking, such as at Benjamin’s Coffeehouse on East Court Street in Franklin.

About once a week co-owner Ashley Shively said she will hear from a customer who wanted to come in on a previous day but was not able to find a convenient parking space.

“Some people will park out here all day; and we’ll have some people that want to pull in for a quick lunch, but there will be no close parking,” Shively said.

During a Friday night movie at the Artcraft, the lot across the street fills up, so people have to park on East Court or West Court streets or in nearby neighborhoods, Shilts said.

New shops on the east end of downtown selling vintage or antique items have become a draw in the last year, which may end up being the next area in need of new spaces, he said.

During the recent Smoke on the Square event, people needed to park a few blocks away, but Shilts said he didn’t think the walk was unreasonable for a festival.

“When we have a big festival like this, it is going to fill up and you’re going to get parking a couple blocks out. It’s not like they can’t find a spot,” he said.

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