Downtown Lewes merchants say a parking garage is the best solution to the city’s ongoing parking woes.
Several business owners spoke in favor of a garage at the city’s business district parking review committee meeting Sept. 12.
Darica Ward and Matt DiSabatino, each a downtown merchant and member of the committee, spoke to more than a dozen of her colleagues about the parking situation. Ward, who owns Deanna’s and Piccolino, said many were frustrated by previous Band-Aid approaches that have not fixed the problem.
“Many believe the only real effective solution is a parking garage,” she said.
She said the demographics of customers gear toward an older population that prefers to park near the restaurant or store they plan to visit. She said they’re not interested in parking at lots three or four blocks away.
“We just have to accept that they’re not going to walk from those farther-out lots,” she said. “We’ve said this before. People won’t walk far.”
The business community agreed the logical location for a parking garage would be the M&T Bank lot at the corner of Market and Third streets, behind Hotel Rodney. The problem is that it’s privately owned, Mayor Ted Becker said.
Chris Becker, owner of Jerry’s Seafood, said patrons often complain about the city’s lack of parking. She suggested working with M&T to provide bank parking on the ground level and public parking on levels above. She said the existing parking situation is driving people away.
“We’re looking for more revenue to keep us alive,” she said. “Everyone [complains] that they had to drive around four times, had to walk five blocks. They get mad at me like it’s my fault they can’t find a place to park.”
Leisa Berlin, owner of Edie Bees and Station on Kings, said she’s also in favor of a garage in the M&T Bank parking lot. But instead of ground-level parking, she said, she would like to see shops to expand the city’s downtown shopping district.
Berlin also commented on the committee’s previous discussions about adding a jitney service to move people in and out of town. “Jitneys will not work in this town,” she said. “People do not want to get on a jitney. They don’t want to get on a bus to come into town.”
DiSabatino, who owns Striper Bites, Half Full and Kindle, said he worries the parking situation is affecting the charm of downtown Lewes. “A long-term effect is the direction of the vibrancy of downtown,” he said. “Is it heading in a good direction or potentially a bad direction because of this problem?”
He said the city must increase inventory and volume of parking spaces, and the spaces must be practical and accessible. “There is not one solution to this problem,” he said. “There have to be multiple solutions, multiple ways of handling it.”
Resident Chip Davis agreed a parking garage is a good idea, but he said it would only work if parking permits are also added for the residential areas surrounding the business district. “Because people will still find streets where they can park for free,” he said.
Betsy Reamer, executive director of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, said there was a private study into the idea of a parking garage at M&T Bank more than 20 years ago. She said it did not go forward at the time because it was not economically feasible.
Mayor Becker said the city also explored the option in 2012, when the bank changed ownership, and there was no interest from the bank at the time. He said he plans to contact bank officials again before the committee’s next meeting Thursday, Oct. 11.
Councilwoman Bonnie Osler wondered how the city would pay for a parking garage. She said the return rate is about 50 years. “I think it would be heavily used in the summer,” she said. “If it would be used the rest of the year, I don’t know.”
The committee also discussed parking for the downtown merchants’ employees. At previous meetings, residents from the surrounding streets aired frustrations about employees parking in front of their homes for eight-plus hours daily.
DiSabatino said he employs 107 people at his three restaurants in the summer season. He estimates 70 percent drive into the city for work.
At just Striper Bites alone, he said, he has 15 to 20 people working at any one time. With several restaurants in the downtown area, Ward estimated 200 to 300 people employed by restaurants need to park in the vicinity for work.
The city and chamber of commerce have encouraged workers to park at Lewes Presbyterian Church or the public parking lot on Schley Avenue, each several blocks from downtown, but few have followed through.
DiSabatino said his employees – and other downtown workers – will likely continue to park in the residential neighborhoods until the city forces them to stop. “I’m sure they will be fine with parking in the church parking lot, but they’re not doing it now because there aren’t any consequences,” he said. “If there is an effective system put in place, I think the employees will adjust well to whatever that is.”
Andrea Spuck, owner of Puzzles and Lewes Gourmet, said the city needs to look to other historic towns for a solution to all of the parking problems.
“We are not the first historic town to have to deal with these issues,” she said. “It seems like there are solutions out there and ways forward. We don’t need to re-create the wheel.”