DVA Addresses Parking Issues
Downtown Vidalia business owners and citizens gathered last week to discuss possible solutions for the city’s parking issues. “I’m sure everyone who is here this evening hears about parking all the time,” Downtown Vidalia Association Director Tonya Parker told the group attending the 6 p.m. meeting on June 16. “We do have a parking problem; but it is because we are growing and progressing, and we want to continue to do that. We also want everyone to be good neighbors to each other downtown.”
She continued, “These are some of the complaints I hear often: ‘There’s not enough parking downtown.’ ‘Some employee has continued from page
been parked in front of my business for hours.’ ‘I had to drive around the block 4 times to find a parking space.’ ‘I’m late to my appointment because there was nowhere to park.’” Parker said, “I get all that, and I know you as business owners and people who shop downtown or come downtown deal with that on a daily basis.”
Several business owners shared their experiences with this issue, along with their frustration with the damage that it has caused their businesses.
Donna Burton spoke on behalf of Town and Country Beauty Salon, whose customer base is mostly elderly. “I have many older ladies who come to get their hair done and have to park far away and walk,” she explained. “They’re on the sidewalk with their walkers and all. They shouldn’t have to go so far.”
Goin’ Postal Employee Jon “Fin” Nadekow even reported customers walking all over downtown with 50+ pound boxes to ship at his store.
Another business owner said that her prime customer base usually visits the store to purchase gifts for family and friends during their lunch breaks from work. Because of the lack of parking, these individuals often go elsewhere because they cannot find close parking and do not have enough time to search for a parking space.
To solve the issue temporarily, Parker encourages business owners and employees to park at the public parking lots at Meadows Park on the corner of Meadows and Leader Streets and the public parking spaces at Ronnie A. Dixon Park. Residents of downtown apartments are also encouraged to park in these areas during regular business hours.
“On the three blocks from Leader Street over to Durden Street, we actually have 283 parking spaces available, so we do have a lot of parking,” she explained. “I timed myself, I wore my Apple watch, and I counted my steps: from Ronnie A. Dixon Park behind City Hall over to the middle of East Meadows Street, right past Brown’s Jewelry. In that vicinity, it took me less than two minutes and it took me only 238 steps.” Parker added, “From Meadows Park, which is over here behind Mary’s, to around the same spot took me less than a minute and a half, and less than 160 steps. I went to Walmart, and I parked on the grocery side around halfway [down the aisle]. At a leisurely pace, it took me almost 3 minutes and over 330 steps (to go inside) to get a gallon of milk.”
Parker noted, “I say all this to emphasize that we do have parking, and it is not really all that far. I know that Walmart has ruined us because anywhere you pull into that parking lot, what can you see? The front door! And that’s how everyone feels: they need to be right in front of the front door of whatever business they’re going to.”
City Manager Nick Overstreet also commented on the parking situation. “Those 283 parking spots downtown do not include the private lots. That means it does not include the lot next to Terry’s Flooring, behind the Children’s Center, next to Southern Harvest, and next to Southern Davis,” he said. “When we say 283 parking spots, we mean public parking. I want to be clear on that because sometimes those lots may be mistaken.”
Parker said, “We’ve got to change our thinking a little bit to not want to park in front of that front door. As of today, we now have 4 hair salons just on East Meadows Street. That’s fantastic, but we all know, especially as women, if we go to the hair salon, we’re there for awhile, even a few hours. We’ve got to all figure out how to work together and make it where our customers want to come into our businesses.”
Parker summarized, “It really just all boils down to being a kind neighbor; it’s as simple as that. If you’re going to eat at the [Downtown] Bistro, don’t go park in front of the General Store  for an hour and a half while you’re having lunch with your friend. It’s the same amount of steps to park in one of the parks as opposed to in front of the businesses.”
Some business owners questioned why the City is not policing parking within the downtown area to ensure that people are not parking in front of businesses for long periods of time.
Vidalia Police Chief James Jermon was in attendance to address these concerns and other questions. “We used to do the tire markings with chalk to track how long a vehicle had been parked in the Downtown area,” he explained. “However, we had an incident where someone said that procedure was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. We looked into this, and to avoid further issue, we stopped that practice.”
Jermon continued. “We see the struggle you all are having, and we are here to do as much as possible to help you,” he told attendees.
“We cannot make anyone do anything,” Parker remarked. “We are merely here to offer suggestions, and to hear any suggestions or concerns you all may offer. We are continuing to grow, and we want to continue to grow, but there are only so many parking spaces.”
Attendees also expressed concern about the parking issues as growth continues. Downtown property owner Karl Owens asked Overstreet if the City had any intention of purchasing property to use for parking. Overstreet responded, “Right now, we do not have any plans to purchase any, but I am not going to say that would never happen. If people would utilize what’s here instead of what they’ve been doing and practicing for years, [the problem] can take care of itself at the occupancy we have now.”
He added, “If we continue to see continual growth in the Downtown, we are going to have to have some more parking established.”
Owens continued to voice his concerns and thoughts on the issue, even advising his fellow Downtown business owners to place friendly notes on cars that park in front of each business for extended periods of time to ask them to discontinue this practice.
Owens said the current problem within the Downtown area is a management problem, which begins with the City government’s inability to consider its options of purchasing Downtown property. He asked that the City look at doing a feasibility study to see what the most appropriate future change in the parking situation would be. Nadekow added to this asking that each business encourage employees to park in either Meadows or Ronnie A. Dixon Park in order to help ensure this transition occurs. Mayor Pro-Tem John Raymond Turner suggested that the DVA place signs informing the public of more parking being available in each park, which Parker said is being considered.