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Otowner proposes parking solution

If more people would park in the water tower parking lot, there would be even more available parking around the Square.

That’s a pretty reasonable assumption made by the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission recently after reviewing occupancy data of all the parking spaces in the free, city-owned lots. The occupancy for most of the lots runs from 70 to 90 percent during most peak time periods, while the water tower lot seldom sees above 50 percent occupancy.

Quentin Whitwell believes he can help provide more available parking for shoppers, by helping get long-term parkers to and from their vehicle if they choose to park in the water tower lot that’s next to the Oxford Park Commission office and behind the Powerhouse.

Whitwell is the owner of Otowner, an electric vehicle “taxi” company that uses six-passenger electric carts to give visitors – and residents who don’t want to drive — a ride around the Square or to the University of Mississippi campus.

On Friday, he presented the commission with a proposal where he would dedicate two of his five carts five days a week during three time periods — 7 to 9 a.m.; 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 5:30 p.m. for $65 a day, payable by the city of Oxford.

“It’s a little bit of a haul from that water tower,” Whitwell told the commission. “People aren’t going to use it unless there’s another reason to, something different and kind of cool.”

Whitwell said his drivers would take parkers to and from their cars during the operational hours, specifically being geared to those employees who park all day at the Square.

“If we can convince them to park a little farther out, we can open more spaces for the average Square visitor,” he said.

Whitwell proposed a 90-day contract.

“It could be a test run and see if does generate the type of transit we’d hope for, get some feedback and we’d share that information with the commission,” he said.

Tom Sharpe, commission chairman, said while the free parking lots remained free, he wasn’t sure how many people would park at the tower even if they had a ride.

“Human nature is that most would continue to use the most convienenet approach,” Sharpe said. “How are you going to convince them to park at the water tower when they can park closer in off-street parking? If there was a charge at the lots, then maybe you could create incentive to park there.”

Commission member Mike Mitchell said the proposal was interesting and should play into future conversations as to whether to put meters in the free lots to help possibly pay for a parking garage.

“I’m reluctant to pull the trigger on that right now,” he said. “We might want to digest it and fold it into those future discussions if we make some movement toward charging for those lots eventually.”

No vote was taken on Whitwell’s proposal. Sharpe said he hopes the commission will be able to make a recommendation to the Board of Alderman in the next two months as to whether a parking garage is needed, and if so, where it should be located and a means of paying for it.

The commission will meet again on Jan. 21 for a work session regarding expanded parking possibilities.