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Parking looks at possible new sites

A few years ago, at the request of the Oxford Board of Aldermen, the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission looked at possible locations for a parking garage somewhere near the Square.

The city hired a parking garage architect to create preliminary designs for the top two areas — behind City Hall and behind the Oxford-University Club in the large parking lot area.

After reading over the data, the commission then decided the one behind City Hall would be best because of location and accessibility.

However, trends on the Square have changed since paid parking has been put into place.

On Friday, the commission reviewed conceptual plans for another two areas in town that have been suggested to commission members to examine.

“These are conceptual only,” said Commissioner Tom Sharpe. “They would require the purchase of property and we don’t know if the owners are even willing to sell. But it’s our job as a commission to look at as many possibilities, whether they are feasible or not. We do not have anything specifically planned for these locations at this time.”

Mark Levy, GS tech with the city of Oxford, presented to maps showing were a possible garage could fit on the corner of South 9th Street and East Jackson Avenue. Located currently on the location is the Rebel Book Store, Goolsby’s Hair World and a parking lot owned by First Baptist Church.

The second map showed a larger structure built behind the Lafayette County Detention Center that would have access from South 9th Street, Jackson Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The structure Levy presented was more than just a parking garage, however. It had office space connecting to the existing detention center that could be used by the sheriff’s department.

“This would be more of a multipurpose structure,” Levy told the commissioners.

Neither commissioners nor city officials have spoken to county leaders or discussed a future partnership on such a structure.

“Again, these are just conceptual plans,” Levy said.

Both structures would give the city another 300 to 400 parking spaces.

No discussion was had on whether the parking garage, if deemed needed in the downtown area in the near future by the commission, would be free.

Free spaces needed

Free parking spaces are becoming a limited commodity, according to data gone over by the commission Friday.

In the parking industry, parking lots are considered saturated when the occupancy hits more than 90 percent. For other parking areas, like around the Square, 80 percent is considered saturated.

Parking Director Matt Davis presented data from July through November, showing the monthly average parking occupancy for the city-owned lots, including the lot being City Grocery, the lot near High Cotton condos, the lot behind City Hall, the lot being the OU Club, the lot adjacent from City Hall across from Simply Southern and the water tower lot near the Oxford Park Commission business offices.

The combined occupancy rates for the month of July in all of the lots, except the water tower location, remained above largely above 90 percent for each month during the noon lunch hour. They dropped to the high 80s at 4 p.m., 70s at 6 p.m. about average about 70 percent occupied at 10 p.m.  The City Grocery lot with 43 spaces remained about 90 percent occupied on average for the five months and topped at 99 percent at noon. The OU club lot also close to, or over, 90 percent all day long while the lots on the east side of the Square had much lower occupancy percentages.

“I believe the need for a parking garage is on the west side of the Square,” Commission member Kevin Frye said. “Those lots remain full throughout most of the day.”

Metered parking spaces see their highest occupancy during the dinner hours with lunch the second busiest time. However, the occupancy rarely went above 80 percent, showing there is generally enough paid parking spaces to accommodate Square visitors.

Mayor Pat Patterson said he’s been getting more complaints recently from citizens saying there wasn’t enough free parking available.

The commission will meet at 9 a.m. Dec. 18 at City Hall where representatives from area churches are expected to attend and talk about the effects of paid parking on their private parking lots.