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Parking is not the only issue in BE

By Staff | Aug 9, 2015

There seems to be a lot of talk and debate lately about the parking spaces in the downtown area of Blue Earth.

And, I have a feeling that this discussion is going to continue. In fact, I can almost guarantee it.

The issue seems to be that many of the businesses want to keep as many parking spaces as possible in the downtown business district, and that translates to wanting to keep diagonal (angle) parking in the two blocks of Main Street from Fifth to Seventh streets that are planned for reconstruction either next year or in 2017.

Some discussion has centered on having parallel parking only (like it is in the block of Main Street from Seventh to Eighth Street) or perhaps having diagonal on one side and parallel on the other. However, some business owners want to keep diagonal parking on both sides of the street, like it is now.

A thorough parking study of the downtown area was recently released and contains 25 pages of in depth data, conclusions and recommendations.

In a nutshell, the report says that only 27.7 percent of the 104 downtown Main Street parking spaces and the 265 spaces just off Main are being used (occupied by a vehicle for any length of time) on average during the day. And that the highest occupancy rate during the survey period was 52 percent on one of the blocks, for a short time period.

In other words, only a third, or at most half, of the parking spaces on any one block are used during the day.

Only when it starts to hit an 85 percent occupancy rate should we be concerned about adding more spaces, the study says.

I personally think this is a whole lot of effort to find out something that most of us who work downtown can see everyday. There are times when there are a lot of cars parked downtown. Then there are times when you could shoot off a cannon and not damage any vehicles.

Of course, that is usually on a Sunday afternoon.

I think we are missing something here. There is a much larger problem to focus on, folks.

And, it is not the occupancy rate of cars in parking spaces. It is the occupancy rate of businesses inside the buildings in downtown Blue Earth.

The downtown area already had more than its share of empty buildings and empty lots where buildings once stood. But this summer, several more have suddenly become empty.

In fact, I count five businesses in the two-block area that have either closed or moved out to another location either in Blue Earth or elsewhere.

Add that to the fact there already were some empty buildings and suddenly you have a serious issue here.

In my opinion, a more serious issue than having a lot of parking spaces.

Who should be concerned about this? Whose job is it to work on filling those buildings?

Everyone’s. I should think there are a great many people who should be looking into solutions to this problem.

While the city is busy with major street projects and the economic development authority (EDA) has its hands full with the Ag Center and new Industrial Park and the Chamber of Commerce is busy with all kinds of promotions and a new building, these groups need to be talking about this problem as well.

And, in my humble opinion, making the downtown business district more ‘attractive’ is one of those steps.

More attractive to people coming here to do business, and more attractive to entice future business owners to open up a shop downtown. And yes, that means fixing up buildings and having fancy sidewalks and things like flowerpots and benches. It is called having a plan for ‘streetscaping’ the downtown.

I admit, that is all easier said than done.

But, you don’t have to look very far to see other towns doing this very thing. We often point to St. Peter as a nearby example. And many other towns around the state are developing ‘streetscaping’ plans for their downtown areas also.

And with a two-block renovation to Blue Earth’s Main Street looming soon, it offers the perfect time to work just as hard on making Blue Earth’s downtown a nice destination people want to come to.

Then there will be a real need to have as many parking spaces as we possibly can to accommodate all those visitors.

Now wouldn’t that be a great problem to have to deal with…