Oxford is adding free parking spots downtown as it assesses effects of new two-hour parking restrictions on businesses and citizens
The new downtown parking ordinance that went into effect last November in Oxford is drawing mixed reactions from local citizens and businesses, city officials say, and changes to the law may be necessary as the city grapples with the first major attempt to reconfigure its central business district parking rules in forty years.
“It seems to be working, but it’s still a work in progress,” Mayor Pat Patterson said Thursday. “We have done the same thing for 40 years, and you can’t figure out the changes in three months.”
Patterson said that as he and the board of aldermen and the parking commission continue to assess the issue, he remains open to tweaks that may be necessary to make the ordinance work better for everyone.
Will Lewis, Jr., CEO of Neilson’s On The Square, was more optimistic in his assessment, although he agreed with the mayor that the parking ordinance is not perfect.
“It’s definitely working,” Lewis said. “It is obvious that parking has been freed up on The Square, and it’s also plain as day that the (free) parking lots are a lot more crowded.”
Before the law went into effect, Lewis said he had no problem finding a parking space in the free parking lots, but he now says he has to search around to find a spot.
“What the whole thing has shown is that employees and business owners parking in front (of their businesses) were much greater than anyone ever knew before,” Lewis said. “That is what created the problem, and overnight it stopped.”
Not all Square merchants agree with Lewis, however. Will Cook, the director of Southside Gallery, says the two-hour parking restriction is hurting his Saturday business.
“There were two women in here on Saturday from Memphis. They were elderly, and they asked me how strictly the parking was enforced, and when I told them that it was two hours and they were likely to get a ticket if they went over the limit, they left the gallery to move their car and never came back.”
Lewis said two possible changes to the law that may have merit are scaling back the 8 p.m. enforcement provision to 6 p.m. on weekdays, a move he says may help the owners of city restaurants and bars, and eliminating Saturday enforcement altogether.
“The thinking is that Saturday should be a free day,” Lewis said, adding that there is less demand for available spaces on the weekend, when there are no bank or public employees downtown.
In addition to enforcing the new parking ordinance that can result in a $25 fine for offenders, Patterson said the city has recently added 30 additional free parking spaces to the mix, with new spots opened up on Monroe and just off Jackson.
Patterson said he expects the city will have a better picture of the parking situation downtown once work is completed on the new city lot that it acquired last year behind the Oxford University Club.
Already, gravel has been added to the new lot, and the city is currently laying asphalt, curbs and gutters, Patterson said. “It ‘s going to add an additional 100 parking spaces.”