The Delaware president of M&T Bank says a parking garage at the bank’s downtown Lewes lot is not an option.
But that hasn’t fazed the public and business community.
“If I stopped after hearing no for the first time I wouldn’t be married,” said Jim Baker, a Lewes resident and structural engineer, at the Nov. 14 business district parking committee meeting. “I feel like we need to continue that pressure. That is by far the optimal spot.”
Mayor Ted Becker and Councilwoman Bonnie Osler had lunch with Nick Lambrow, senior vice president and president of M&T Bank’s Delaware region, to discuss the bank’s property at the Third and Market streets. Becker said the discussion was very preliminary, but positive.
Kathleen Leebel, co-owner of Lewes Building Company, was interested in how the garage idea was presented. She said M&T Bank officials should view it as an opportunity to improve the community.
“How you pitch something can definitely affect the outcome,” she said. “I hope it was pitched as a community builder.”
Becker assured her it was pitched to Lambrow in that manner, but his concerns were more about future use of the property.
“I think he was concerned with lots of different aspects in terms of how it would fit, whether or not they’d give up any land, whether or not it would impact Hotel Rodney and even the streetscape,” Becker said.
“He was also concerned about disruption to the branch during a period of construction,” Osler added.
Becker said Lambrow did show a fair amount of interest in combining the lot with the adjacent city-owned lot to create a larger parking lot. That would likely yield more public parking and eliminate curb cuts, resulting in more on-street parking too.
While that approach may improve parking, committee member Matt DiSabatino said they should not abandon the parking garage idea.
“I think sooner rather than later we need to think about another location,” he said. “I think it’s been very clear that inventory is probably the biggest part of the parking problem. In my opinion, if we don’t move forward with solving an inventory issue, the problem is just going to continue to exist.”
Chris Becker, owner of Jerry’s Seafood on Second Street, said the parking situation affects all downtown businesses.
“I think it’s a fair statement to say every merchant in town has seen a decline in volume of business because of our competition,” she said. “People are sick of trying to come into town when they can go to these places out on Route 1, get in and get out because it’s convenient.”
She said Lewes is losing vibrancy and something needs to be done to revitalize it.
Sam Calagione, owner of the Dogfish Inn, agreed the time to address the issues is now.
“Perception is reality,” he said. “The tide is really turning in perception right now about how this town is addressing this issue.”
Mayor Becker and city staff also met with representatives from Colonial Parking. They looked at the M&T Bank lot and other open downtown lots. He said he was told the feasibility of a garage on the M&T lot is marginal and all other open land is likely too far away from downtown.
Baker said he’s worked on parking garages, and further research would find it is possible.
Cost is another issue, Osler said. To build a garage, she said, it would likely require a bond, which would have to be voted on by the residents.
Becker said Lambrow will talk with his real estate division before providing city officials with an official answer on use of the lot, whether for a parking garage or for a joint effort to consolidate parking with the city lot.
In the meantime, the committee is also looking at other ideas to improve parking downtown, including turning Third Street to a one-way road and converting parallel parking spaces into angled parking spaces. It could be considered as an option from Savannah Road to Shipcarpenter Street, Becker said. Angled parking is also being considered for Third Street near the Lewes Historical Society complex. The number of spaces generated could be considerable, Becker said, but it is still in the early stages with the city engineer.
DiSabatino brought the idea from a resident to the committee. He said it’s a quick and effective way to make an immediate impact.
“All of these ideas are about preserving what is great about Lewes,” he said. “If we don’t implement some of these ideas, the town is not going to stay the way it is now. In order to preserve what we have and keep the town the way we like it, we have to advance and do other things that sometimes become a little broad-minded and eye-opening and hard to accomplish. But they have to be done to preserve the quaintness and vibrancy.”
One short-term solution the committee wants to move forward with is a jitney/shuttle service to encourage people to park at lots farther away from downtown. The recommendation calls for a continuous shuttle to take people to and from the city’s lot on Schley Avenue about three-quarters of a mile from Second Street. Osler recommended the service run from April 1 to Oct. 31 for one trial year.
Marketing is another way to turn the tide, said Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer. She said a panel in the annual visitors guide highlighting parking and parking changes could be a way to bring people into town.
The committee will continue its discussions at its next meeting, set for 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 4, at city hall.