Parking in downtown McMinnville has reared its ugly head as an obstacle to relocating the Driver Testing Center to City Hall.
The state has requested the reservation of four parking spaces -- two handicap parking spaces, as well as two spaces for its instructors when individuals take the driving portion of the test.
The information was presented during a Building and Grounds Committee meeting Tuesday. On the committee are Aldermen Steve Harvey, chair, Ryle Chastain and Ben Newman.
Alderman Mike Neal says those four parking spaces are just the tip of the parking iceberg and he believes the high demand for parking will hinder businesses.
“We have to reserve four but there will be 100 more cars on average every day vying for the spaces we’ve got,” said Neal. “I’ve never said ‘I’m going to go get my driver’s license and do a little shopping while I’m out.’ I think this is going to hinder downtown business. It’s going to make it hard for some people to get to them.”
Newman asked, “You think having more people downtown will be bad for business?”
“I didn’t say that,” said Neal. “If they are coming to shop, that’s one thing. If they are coming to get a driver’s license, that’s totally something else.”
Newman added, “The general principle is when there’s more people in a place they are usually going to knock out two birds with one stone.”
Harvey stated, “A lot of people go eat while obtaining a driver’s license.”
The availability of parking in downtown has been a running debate for years. Along with visitors to the courthouse and various stores, business owners and their employees park on Main Street rather than in one of the back parking lots.
Mayor Jimmy Haley says he has made it clear the employees of the Driver Testing Center need to park in the back packing lot. However, city employees and merchants have been instructed to do that as well but they ignore it.
“I’ve told the state all the employees are to park in the lower lot, except for the reserve spots for the people who are driving,” said Haley. “I’ve made that known from the very beginning. Whether they do it or not, I don’t know. It’s like merchants parking there and City Hall employees being told to park there. They don’t always do it.”
Alderman Everett Brock suggested the reserved spots be in the back parking lot and not on Main Street.
“I could see handicap, but the testers? They can walk 50 yards,” said Brock.
City administrator Bill Bock says they cannot reserve handicap space for the center’s use only.
“There will be two handicap. Of course, anybody with a handicap can pull in them. You can’t say ‘Driver Testing Center Handicap.’ Everybody knows what court day looks like downtown. It’s pretty loaded.”
Chastain said he’s received nothing but positive feedback for the effort to relocate the center into the basement of City Hall from residents and downtown business owners alike, while Newman said he’s a regular visitor to downtown and there are always open parking spaces in the lower parking lot.
The measure is moving forward despite parking concerns.