The Cook Museum of Natural Science’s June 7 opening has local officials worried about parking in downtown Decatur, and a proposed study could help officials decide if parking meters or a parking deck are in downtown Decatur’s near future.
A marketing study by America’s Research Group predicted the museum will attract 200,000 visitors a year, not including school groups. The study predicted 60% of the visitors will come on Saturdays.
City Director of Development Wally Terry proposed at last week’s City Council work session that the council hire Tim Haahs & Associates, of Alpharetta, Georgia, for a cost of not to exceed $25,000, to do a parking study of downtown Decatur.
This would be the second downtown parking study since 2013.
The study isn’t on Monday’s 10 a.m. agenda, but the City Council will hold a first reading of an ordinance change outlawing parking on certain streets around the museum.
If the ordinance is approved, on-street parking will be banned on Lee Street Northeast between Sixth Avenue and Oak Street, and on Fourth Avenue Northeast between Cain and Lee streets.
Parking also would be prohibited on the alley running east and west between Holly Street and East Moulton Street, except for loading and unloading zones established by the Police Department.
The museum is also focused on parking issues. Jim Aycock, vice chairman of the board of Cook’s Pest Control, said Cook’s Properties purchased and began tearing down the former Red Cross building on Holly Street Northeast for a parking lot last week.
Cook’s Properties also recently bought the former Morgan County Health Department on Cherry Street Northeast. It is now a museum parking lot.
Terry said the study would begin in early June so it can monitor the impact of the museum opening. The study would take 60 to 90 days.
City Council President Paige Bibbee said her concern is how the city will handle parking when the numbers are at the peak. She also wants as evaluation of the Decatur Downtown Commons, just west of the railroad tracks and north of Moulton Street, for use as a potential parking area.
“I think there will be an influx of people in the first month,” Bibbee said. “That’s when our streets will be at max capacity.”
Councilman Chuck Ard said the museum is “such a game-changer for downtown, this is a good time for us to evaluate our needs.”
Rick Paler, executive director of the Downtown Decatur Redevelopment Authority, said a parking study is appropriate. He said the Cook Museum isn’t the only thing happening for downtown.
“There are a lot of people looking at downtown properties,” Paler said.
Bibbee requested that Terry ask Chairman Ray Long and the Morgan County Commission if they would be willing to share the cost of a parking study, especially since Long proposed recently that the county look at building a parking deck along Lee Street between the courthouse and the Alabama Center for the Arts.
“If they (county officials) want to reap the benefits of the study, they need to go in with us on this study,” Bibbee said. “I don’t want to do the study for them.”
Councilman Charles Kirby said he wants the study to be relevant to what both the city and county are doing.
Long said Friday he’s talked to Terry a couple of times recently but he needs more details on the study and the cost.
While he’s willing to talk with city officials, Long said he doesn’t need a study to know that there’s a parking problem three or four days a week around the courthouse. He said one of his concerns is for senior citizens and how far they have to walk to and from the courthouse.
“I know we have a problem where we are,” Long said. “It’s particularly busy when all of the judges are in session.”
Terry said Haas’ 2013 parking study found that downtown Decatur didn’t have a problem.
“He found we’ve got a walking problem, not a parking problem,” Terry said. “He’s continued to follow us, and he’ll be honest with us about our situation.”