About this column: Starting today and continuing on most Mondays, we’re offering The Druck Report, a home for analysis and commentary on critical issues in Northwest Georgia.
You could write that much-cliched book about success stories in downtown Rome. Sure, there have been business casualties but a lot of of those were self-inflicted by owner/operators.
Overall, we’ve seen a run of restaurants, lofts, offices and boutiques in recent years. Each one of those has a common need: parking. Make that convenient parking.
We live in a day where we wear special watches and wristbands — some costing more than $300 — to count the steps we take, celebrating a milestone if we top, say, 10,000 steps. And yet, as a community, we whine about the distance between the parking spot and a restaurant or shop. And both better offer a parking pass to pay for our inconvenience.
Never mind that those hoping to run an errand on a true lunch hour are giving up because they can’t find even a remote dash-and-go parking space. Those dollars are going elsewhere, perhaps to retailers in other local neighborhoods or else south to Kennesaw or north to Chattanooga on larger shopping excursions.
We’re also seeing long-vacant second- and third-floors of downtown buildings fill with rental lofts of $1,200 a month or more (parking maybe or maybe not included). The expected surge of office space demand likely won’t happen as wunderkind Candor stalls — but others are looking as well, embracing the live/work/play amenities of downtown.
The number of boutique openings easily outnumbers the closings so basic curb space is in higher demand.
All this somewhat exploded last week. A consultant’s attempted recitation of the latest study that’s soon to be gathering dust on another municipal shelf was interrupted 10 minutes into the presentation. The meeting dissolved from there. Just look at the Rome News‘ account of the Downtown Development Authority’s new chair, Bob Blumberg, who’s quoted as follows in talking about parking and related issues: “Being progressive is very difficult. I want you to think about things that represent change.”
Blumberg, with Johnny’s New York Style Pizza and one of the top upscale spots in the region, Seasons, definitely has seven digits worth of skin in this game. Others who’ve made investments downtown and who work with clients who continue to do so likewise are tired of the study-of-the-year which mostly benefits the flavor-of-the-month consultant.
From the feedback we’re getting, fed-up stake holders uttered more of “hell yeah” vs. the usual “amen” to Blumberg’s call-to-arms.
There’s serious talk of installing paid meters downtown and perhaps waving parking fees in some of the decks. The revenue is needed to pay off the debt on that Third Avenue deck. Also surfacing: Talk of perhaps another deck to relieve the current demand.
These voices are talking about tomorrow as well as today — and they’re drowning out the proverbial “I love Rome” rhetoric with a response of: “Then show it.”
Perhaps putting a definitive exclamation point on it all was a business development on Friday, one totally separated from anything noted above. Wayne Robinson confirmed that Ginny and Doc Kibler had leased “The Vogue,” the building Robinson has been rehabbing with plans for another upscale restaurant downstairs and lofts with river and Town Green views on both floors. Instead, the Kiblers want both floors for an event facility.
The immediate response we heard: Genius. A prime location, easy access to the riverfront and — a critical factor– the most convenient solution to any parking concerns outside of Forrest Place (which also is going through some changes with Harvest Moon Catering).
Indeed, the Kiblers are doing what Blumberg hopes to see more of — “think about things that represent change.”
We’ll save the cost of hiring yet another consultant by concluding Blumberg is not alone. As prime an address as Broad Street is, business owners will heed customer demands and trends — including potential relocation if a definitive parking solution isn’t reached soon.
That’s anything but a success story for downtown.