By GENNA NEWMAN
Findlay business owners are voicing support for a plan to add parking spaces downtown by reducing the number of Main Street driving lanes.
“One hundred percent like it. We should have done it years ago,” said Kent Weaver, owner of Rieck’s Gallery, 524 S. Main St.
With Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s planned expansion of its downtown complex, plus “the Central performing arts center, UF’s athletic complex and now Main Street, it’s going to turn downtown around,” Weaver said.
The proposed changes would create reverse-angled parking spaces along most of South Main Street between Front and Hardin streets, with the exception of the block between Crawford and Sandusky, which would be kept as is.
Instead of two lanes in each direction, traffic would be reduced to one lane each way. A median buffer would be created between the northbound and southbound lanes.
“Our number one complaint is not enough parking,” said Pam Hamlin, co-owner of Trends On Main, 501 S. Main St. “This will be great.”
“The change is something people will eventually get used to,” said Cathy Linhart, owner of House of Awards and Shoes, 209 S. Main St. “For shops to survive, it’s essential.”
But Linhart has an alternative idea: more parking lots.
According to Linhart, there are a number of lots near her store.
“The city should look into buying those first, or putting lots where there are vacant buildings,” she said.
“It’s not a big deal to walk around the corner to get to Main, and these lots sit vacant. Better to buy those than slow traffic to two lanes.”
But Linhart agrees that the proposed downtown traffic plan would positively affect her business.
“Our biggest complaint has always been the parking. And we’ve been here for 37 years,” she said.
Along with more parking, the store owners pointed to the need for safety improvements.
“We have little girls’ birthday parties here and I get nervous with the traffic and young kids,” Hamlin said.
Slowing Main Street traffic is a point of attraction to others.
“It’ll be good to slow traffic because people exceed the speed limit anyway. One lane will naturally slow things,” said Lynne Calvelage, co-owner of Coffee Amici, 328 S. Main St. “It’ll make downtown a destination, not just somewhere to drive through to get from A to B.”
As for naysayers, Calvelage said they should get over it.
“People need to be open-minded,” she said. “Things downtown are already changing dramatically. Hundreds from Marathon will be retiring in the next few years and there will be a whole new young, fresh generation looking for places to gather. People need to stop kidding themselves and get over it.
“Coffee Amici is open on Sundays now because we saw the need for a gathering place. I never wanted to be open Sundays. We’ve been here for 12 years, but now there’s a need,” Calvelage said.
With reverse-angled parking, motorists would back into angled parking spots along Main Street. Having vehicles’ trunks facing the sidewalk is a safety attraction, store owners said.
Weaver said people will be able to load their cars safely from the sidewalk, and children will be able to open car doors and enter, with the car door between them and traffic.
When motorists are ready to leave, the nose of the car will be facing traffic.
Weaver likened the setup to a situation that many take advantage of in a parking lot.
“In a parking lot, how many times do you notice the spot in front of you is open and you pull forward? You pull forward because it’s easier to leave. It’s the same principle downtown. Now you’ll be able to see traffic when you leave,” he said.
“It’s something different, and people are resistant to change. But then again, people hate parallel parking and they hate the lack of parking. They need change,” he said.
Hamlin said most of the girls who shop at Trends for prom dresses can’t parallel park, and Calvelage said that decreases the attendance of younger generations at Coffee Amici’s popular open mic nights.
“I speak to Hancock Youth Leadership groups specifically about downtown, and they always say they can’t parallel park,” Calvelage said.
Reverse-angled parking “would open it up for a younger generation and make it easier for them,” she said.
“They literally don’t come because they can’t parallel park. When they say, ‘there’s nothing to do, there’s nowhere to go,’ that actually means they won’t come downtown because they can’t parallel park.”
The proposed traffic changes have created a point of lighthearted tension between Hamlin and her husband, Trends co-owner Tim Hamlin.
“Where’s traffic going to go? Will it all back up? That’ll discourage customers,” Tim said.
Weaver doesn’t see a problem with diverting some of the Main Street traffic.
“When there’s festivals and things that shut down part of Main Street, traffic is diverted elsewhere anyway, and I’ve never heard any complaints,” Weaver said.
Pam Hamlin’s worry is the median may reduce window-shopping, but said “it’s time to try something different.”
“If we don’t make a change, nothing new will happen,” Calvelage said.