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Parking garage needed?

Five years ago, parking around the Downtown Square was next to impossible during peak hours of the day. Businesses and citizens started pressuring city leaders that a parking garage was needed; however, that’s a costly fix so the aldermen asked the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission to come up with a Plan B, which was to hire a parking management company.

The city contracted with Standard Parking, and while it was a costly arrangement, the stricter enforcement did start to move cars off the Square making it easier to find parking spaces.

Eventually the city decided to go with paid parking and installed meters. They did not renew their contract with Standard and Oxford Parking Department was formed, complete with its own logo and staff. Paid parking went live September 2014 and has brought in more than $600,000 in revenue that goes into its own account to be used for future parking and Square improvements.

With Oxford’s growth predicted to continue to climb, the need for a possible parking garage is not off the table and revenue from paid parking is expected to pay for one.

However, with the parking meters in place, moving cars around the Square, is one still needed?

That is the question the parking commission has begun, again, to take a look at. Last month, the commission appointed a parking garage committee to review the issues related to a parking garage; however the commission decided the entire board should examine and answer the question rather than just a committee.

The commission decided to have two meetings a month, rather than one, with one being a work session.

On Friday, the commission met for its first parking garage work session at City Hall.

Alderman Janice Antonow has been open on her doubts over whether a garage is needed for the downtown in the immediate future. On Friday she reiterated those doubts and asked the commission to be open minded about the possibility that a garage isn’t needed, and not to just move forward with the thought process that a garage is definitely a need for Oxford.

Antonow said the city is looking at other some other projects that could have a spillover effect on parking, like moving the municipal court off the Square.

Parking commission member Kevin Frye said he wouldn’t want to see all the “business” moved off the Square, leaving it only an area for retail and restaurants.

“The lawyers may want to move off the Square to be closer to the court,” he said. “All of that stuff has an effect on the Square and I don’t want to lose what makes the Square the Square. If other businesses move away, all it becomes is a place to eat and shop and we lose the character of the Square.”

Mayor Pat Patterson read a letter from a man who owns a professional businesses on the Square, complaining about feeding the meters and getting tickets for parking where he runs a business, as well as his employees having a hard time finding spaces to park in the free lots.

“We’ll run off every private (professional) business without some additional parking off the Square,” Patterson said.

The commission asked Public Works Director Bart Robinson if it was possible to get data from security cameras on the Square, to see parking trends at different times of the day. Robinson said the cameras would only give snapshots of specific areas but that the Mississippi Department of Transportation may be able to supply some data.

Commission member and University of Mississippi Parking and Transportation director Mike Harris said the university plans on building a second parking garage within the next two years which will help provide parking for residential students. However, Patterson said commuter students are still tying up spaces around the Square.

“They come park in our free lots and hop the bus to campus,” he said at the meeting.

The commission will focus on parking trends and collecting data and discuss findings at the next work session in October.