Many residents and business owners in New Bern are opposed to the idea of parking meters in the downtown area. City officials weigh in and talk about revitalization in the colonial capital.
Downtown New Bern is a revitalization success story. Within the past few decades, the city’s center has undergone a dramatic transformation, and now boasts a vibrant arts scene, a variety of restaurants, and plenty of shopping. As downtown New Bern draws more attention, it’s also experiencing some growing pains preserving its small town charm. The main issue of contention is adequate parking for all of those tourists and locals.
“The primary concern with parking is from about 10 o’clock to about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s the prime time that parking is a problem.”
New Bern Mayor Dana Outlaw says parking was an item of discussion during a Board of Aldermen annual retreat back in February, but has since taken on a life of its own with petitions showing up in local business storefronts.
“The staff were asked at the retreat to study parking and they brought back to the Board of Aldermen their ideas on parking and part of that was parking meters at our sacred cow of sacred cows, Union Point.”
The picturesque six acre Union Point Park is located at the point where the Neuse and Trent Rivers meet, offering views of sailboats and yachts coming and going through the Alfred Cunningham Memorial drawbridge.
According to the New Bern Sun Journal, the item of discussion called for 215 parking spaces and three kiosk allowing parking for $5 a day or $1 an hour. Talk of parking meters has caused a bit of a stir in the downtown area. The owners of Sweet Pea’s Café and Captain Ratty’s started petitions garnering thousands of signatures from locals, people from eastern North Carolina and around the United States. David Millns, manager of Bear City Fudge Co. says he opposes the idea of parking meters.
“The downtown is a very vibrant area and I think a lot of people are coming in from all parts of the country and I just somehow think that the meters would deter and people would go to other areas.”
On Tuesday on Middle Street, John Lloyd was taking in the sights and sounds of the downtown. He’s on vacation with his wife from Ontario, Canada.
“I think it wouldn’t be a good idea. That’s because I am a tourist, I don’t mind paying because most Ontario places have paid parking lots. But I think because of the people in this area, they’re so friendly, that it might take a bit of the charm away from the main streets.”
Parking on Middle and Craven Streets can be hard to come by, especially 8 to 4, Monday through Saturday. Often, folks have to park a couple of blocks away and walk to their destination. However, some believe it’s not that inconvenient, even when downtown is bustling.
“Like on the Fourth of July, or Mumfest, but I always found one in the end, I may have to drive around a little but I’ve always found one.”
David Heit was at the Farmer’s Market with his friend Christin McCauley, also from New Bern.
“Well, I mean it would make revenue I’m sure, but I’m sure it would probably piss people off. I think it’s a waste of money to invest in. And yeah, it might eventually make revenue but I don’t think it’s worth the hassle.”
City officials are paying attention to the buzz. Alderman Jeffery Odham believes the proposal presented by staff on how to address the downtown parking issue caused residents to believe that all parking downtown would be metered. In an article published in the Greenbrier Gazette, Odham says he is not in favor of on-street parking meters in the downtown business district or at Union Point Park but supports a thorough evaluation to find an amendable solution. Mr. Odham declined our request for interview.
I was able to speak with Dallas Blackinston, New Bern Alderman for Ward 1 which covers downtown. Blackinston is opposed to on-street parking meters.
“This just happened to be one item that kind of got cut loose and basically folks started running with the thought that this was a done deal.”
He says the discussion in February was a small part of an ongoing comprehensive downtown parking management plan.
“We started two years ago to look at trying to address not only parking the continued economic revitalization of our downtown with a development finance initiative under the cognizance and work of the North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill.”
The 2015 study explored the potential development of four city properties that included a parking deck near City Hall. Parking meters were proposed as a way to generate revenue for the project.
“The concept under their development is for a mixed use parking deck that would expand our off-street parking capabilities as well as provide an option for expanded retail on Craven Street, as well as permeant or more permanent residence downtown or a hotel package that would be a part of this.”
Blackinston says Alderman are currently in discussions with Craven County government about the funding and placement of a mixed use parking deck. He says they’re also assessing the parking needs of downtown businesses owners and their employees as part of the comprehensive plan.
Mayor of New Bern Dana Outlaw says since spaces are limited, business owners and their employees should refrain from using on-street parking.
“And they have an opportunity to open their arms and their goods and services to New Bernians and out of town folks if they’re willing to give up the parking space in front of their own business. Which many of them are parking in front of their own business. It’s crazy.”
Outlaw urges folks to seek out free parking areas located throughout the downtown area.
“Part of that is the education of the public both local and tourist coming into the area with proper wayfinding. And proper use of the Farmer’s Market, which is a city owned property. Possible parking at Union Point, free.”
Parking is also available behind the Fireman’s Museum and in the lot behind the Harvey Mansion. The City will continue to work out parking issues as they complete the comprehensive downtown parking management plan. While no timeline was offered, public involvement is part of the process. There will be public meetings before the plan- with or without parking meters- is rolled out.