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BLOG: How Can We Help Downtown Businesses

Despite their decision to remove 37 parking spaces downtown, the city council made a commitment for the city to strenghten support for downtown businesses. How can the city help?

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the city council unanimously voted to replace the gravel parking lot at the corner of University Drive and North Street with an expanded Kitty Pozer Park, much to the dismay of many business owners who are concerned that losing those spaces will impact their business.  As the council members spoke, they each voiced their concerns for the viability of downtown businesses, despite their vote on the parking lot.  They all also suggested a couple ideas to help attract customers downtown.  Some were more concrete than others.  Here are a few of them…

  • Create a task force to examine parking and other issues that impact businesses (Greenfield)
  • More events, such as a restaurant week (Drummond, Silverthorne)
  • Look at redeveloping Courthouse Plaza to bring an anchor and other uses (Meyer)
  • Expedite a traffic study to examine how traffic volume is impacting downtown businesses (Schmidt)
  • Think about how we can get pass-through traffic to stop and patronize businesses (Stombres)

In addition, city staff presented a few concepts for adding deck parking on city owned parcels, though their feasibility was questionable.

What do you think?  Are these ideas that would help downtown businesses?  Are they even plausible? 

have focused on adding more on-street parking.  I think that is another partial solution.  What are some others? 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Eric Snyder January 29, 2012 at 04:55 AM
The following is a list of what a number of the businesses have established will help them to survive and grow their businesses. 1. Increase the amount of visible accessible parking available in the downtown. 2. Create the pedestrian friendly environment necessary for Old Town businesses to prosper by working with city staff to regulate traffic, parking and signage. 3. There should be a master plan for development of all the city owned properties in the Old Town, particularly the Patton Harris Rust lot, Amoco lot. 4. Upgrade and pave the Amoco parking lot as an interim use. 5. Create signage for way finding downtown to assist visitors in locating businesses, restaurants and parking. 6. Widen sidewalks to minimum of ten feet or more where space is available. 7. We support provide additional on street parking on University Drive from North Street north to Whitehead on both the east and west sides of the street 8, Provide additional on street parking on Old Lee Highway between North Street and Main Street on the west side of the block. 9. Improve the pedestrian crossing from the library across Old Lee Highway and across North Street. 10. Provide crosswalks in the middle of the blocks on Main Street and North Street between Chain Bridge Road and University Drive.
Eric Snyder January 29, 2012 at 04:57 AM
The appropriate sound byte is to find a silver bullet to make everything allright.We have had silver bullets before, some worked better than others. Redevelopment of Courthouse Plaza will hurt the businesses at the village shops and the downtown by diverting money and customers from existing businesses.. The special events are glitzy but do not have a positive impact on downtown businesses except to disrupt traffic and further the cities reputation as a place with terrible traffic and no parking. Silver bullets are hard to come by. In 1995 the Village Shops with the parking garage, the new library and the Post Office relocation were supposed to be the silver bullets. They have all helped but here we are now. Slowing traffic and diverting through traffic to other routes outside the downtown will do more to create the ambience we need to draw people and create the special place Fairfax can be.
Paula A. Crouch January 29, 2012 at 12:26 PM
In my humble opinion, the main issue IS: adequate, visible and convenient parking in OLD Town. So I have a suggestion..Since the city didn't have any issues with claiming imminent domain and condemning the Weight Watcher's building and then run off all the revenue producing businesses there on that corner, why not do this? Condemn the Royal gas station on the corner of Main & 123 and make that our VISIBLE parking for folks zipping through the city who just may stop and shop or dine in OLD TOWN..In other quaint towns I have visited, ( Fredericksburg & say, Gettysburg) whilst driving on the streets, if I saw a shop I wanted to visit, parking was always available, either on the main drag or close by on side streets. How many people , do you suppose, drive through Old Town, see a shop they'd like to visit but keep driving because there is NO convenient, visible parking??? All the visible parking spaces in Old Town are mostly PRIVATE so where is a potential customer supposed to park ? Eh? In the garage which is blocks away and folks unfamiliar with the city don't have a clue where it is and don't care anyway because by then, it's too much trouble to check out that shop?? Like Eric said, development in Courthouse Plaza doesn't resolve the dearth of convenient & visible parking in Old Town, which WILL, most assuredly, affect the businesses there..
Stan Darke January 30, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Along with many of the good points above, I would say that bringing in a credible expert to evaluate the downtown is key, and not just leaving decisions of how to revitalize and permanently alter the design of our historic city up to city staff and council. While ideas from all are great, decisions should not be made until an expert planner is brought in. For example, if our goal is to be a downtown destination, and not a 'drive-thru' city, as it is now, would it not make sense to at least study on street parking, pedestrian crosswalks, and maybe even 4 way stop signs instead of lights at certain places? I am not a city expert, but I spent the day in Philly today and was amazed at how many busy intersections in their Old City section had stop signs instead of lights. This slows people down, even if there are a lot of them, including at a crosswalk at North Street where the fountain is, and the cars get up to 50mph. So what, we slow down traffic. Will some people get upset? Yes, maybe the ones who go that fast, who we really don't want driving through town anyway. They are not the ones stopping at our stores. At least look at it. Also, the plaza/park design should REALLY include a workable solution for a weekly event- such as the farmer's market, art shows, craft fairs, flea markets, music fests, etc. Concentrate on bringing a fraction of Fall Festival patrons to downtown on a weekly basis, by attracting them! And have events that businesses can take part in.
Stan Darke January 30, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Here's just one study that says stop signs are safer than stop lights. http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/04/26/to-get-safer-streets-traffic-lights-and-stop-signs-arent-the-answer/
Ben Glass January 30, 2012 at 11:51 AM
well, many of the businesses simply need to learn how to market themselves better. Gone are the days when you can rely on traditional brand building advertising. When I eat in Old Town there is very little attempt to capture my name, market back to me, make special offers to me...yes, this is much harder but successful businesses do this quite well. The parking is there but it is rather "invisible." I highly suggest that any small business go over to Amazon.com and read any of Dan Kennedy's "No. B.S...for small biz and entrepreneur.." books. He's coming out with a new one on guerrilla marketing for small businesses. You can't just rely on the city (aka government) to fix the problems. You have be be very proactive with your customers...deliver an outstanding service or product and KNOW who your raving fans are. Then market back to the. This can be done.
AB Woodall January 31, 2012 at 01:36 PM
This may negatively impact traffic through the city, but I've always wondered why North Street does not have on street parking during non-rush hours. The same can be said for University. Do people really need to fly down North from 6:30 pm to 6:30 am or on the weekends? Wouldn't it serve those businesses better if cars drove a bit more slowly through there anyway? I think part of the issue is that even if there were people frequenting the businesses in Old Town, you would never know it because all of the parking and activity is hidden from the street. We are social animals by nature. No one wants to go to a restaurant, bar or shopping that appears that it's empty from the outside.
Tony Stedman March 18, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I agree with the redevelopment of Courthouse Plaza.... that shopping center is really hurting for something. The safeway and shopping center in general has seen better days..... There is plenty of space to really make something nice out of it. I picture something like Fairfax Corner. The plaza is in a great location with plenty of parking but can't even be seen from Old Lee Highway or University. The city should allow for more signage to help businesses in the area. It seems that the city council doesn't want to help businesses.... business unfriendly issues like the meals tax(why should someone have to pay a tax for the priveledge of eating in a rundown shopping center in the City of Fairfax), and taking away much needed parking are both hurting businesses. It's no wonder new businesses are not attracted to this area and the ones that are here now have trouble surviving. There is much to do and the city really needs to bring in some experts to come up with a serious plan.

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