For many tenants and business owners in downtown Mitchell, a scarcity of parking in the area has persisted for decades, triggering parking battles.
Although downtown business owners, tenants and some shoppers seem to have a shared belief that much of the area lacks parking spaces, there are a swath of public parking lots scattered throughout downtown that have plenty of open spots during the day. It poses the question: Is there really a lack of parking in downtown Mitchell?
Mitchell has 15 public parking lots in the downtown area stretching along Main Street from East Seventh Avenue to The Depot Pub and Grill at Railroad Street. While the number of parking stalls in each lot varies, combining the 15 public parking lots in the downtown area there are a total of 1,068 parking spaces available.
“I don’t know if there is a parking problem in the downtown area per se. However, when we have events going on it does get more difficult to find parking,” said Public Works Director Kyle Croce. “But we have so many public parking lots available as well. I think there is parking space available, but I think many don’t realize the amount of public lots there are downtown.”
Despite the volume of available parking spaces in public lots, a parking battle among two downtown property owners recently surfaced. After Exit Realty requested to establish four 15 minute parking spots along their new downtown location at 117 E. Fourth Ave., a property owner with a neighboring apartment building pushed back, citing the scarcity of parking around the area.
“This is a part of town with an extreme shortage of parking spaces available, and I’m absolutely opposed to this request,” said Mike Larson, who owns an apartment building adjacent to Exit Realty’s new location. “Our parking is primarily along the street on North Lawler, which is already in short supply.”
If the side streets are full in the East Fourth Avenue and Lawler Street area, the downtown public parking lot in closest proximity to the apartments and Exit Realty is roughly a block and a half south on Second Avenue and Lawler Street, which has 85 available spaces.
Regardless of the nearby public parking lot, the City Council ultimately agreed on approving one of the four 15-minute parking spots that Exit Realty requested at a recent September meeting following a handful of additional phone calls from nearby property owners who opposed the parking request.
For Croce, the parking woes that have surfaced recently has sparked his idea to potentially develop an online map showing all of the public parking lots that are available in the downtown area stretching along Main Street.
Just a block south on Main Street, a business owner has come up against similar parking woes. Megan Sabers, owner of Tickled Pink Boutique, said there is a lack of customer parking in front of her downtown 217 N. Main St. store.
“A lot of Main Street business owners will park in front of their stores for long periods of time, and that is another problem that takes up parking,” Sabers said.
Although Sabers is aware of nearby public parking lots, she said customers almost never want to walk a couple of blocks to arrive at her store. The public parking lots in downtown are mostly positioned about a block or two off Main Street, which puts them further away from the majority of downtown apartments and businesses. Given the sentiment of downtown business owners and tenants, walking a block or two appears to be a hassle for many, especially in the winter months. In addition, its effect it has on business.
Croce acknowledged the convenience of utilizing parking spaces that are only a few feet away from the destination is ideal, but he said a one- to two-block walk mirrors a similar distance from a parking spot at a big box store to the front entrance if the lot is quite filled.
“When there aren’t side-street spots available, people may have to walk a bit, but that is not asking them to do anything different than if they parked toward the back of a parking lot at a big-box store,” Croce said. “But I understand people are used to convenience and want that.”
Diagonal parking, short-term parking
Considering Mitchell’s Main Street has side street parking that gets taken up by employees and business owners for extended periods of time, it sparked past discussions of implementing diagonal parking along Main Street, which would add more customer parking spaces in front of businesses. Sabers supports bringing diagonal parking to Main Street due to it adding more customer parking.
From First to Sixth Avenue on Main Street, there are 10 side-street parking spaces on each block with one restricted 15-minute parking spot on nearly every corner, equating to a combined total of 140 spaces.
To combat prolonged parking in front of Main Street businesses, Croce said short-term parking spots similar to those that exist in metro cities are common solutions. However, he noted that diagonal parking can depend on the street width.
Croce said diagonal parking could likely eliminate the center median that is used by delivery drivers and trucks unloading materials to respective businesses.
“There is a thought process in favor of restricted parking that promotes business due to the frequent turnover of customers. It keeps parking spots open for customers and reduces an employee or someone from taking up a parking space all day,” he said. “I think diagonal parking is good and is very easy for drivers, but losing that center median lane could be a real issue.”
Taking a deeper look into the possibility of diagonal parking and short-term parking in downtown Mitchell would be one of many goals that Croce said could be achieved with a transportation study that he’s been seeking to get approved by the council. As of now, the transportation study in conjunction with the South Dakota Department of Transportation is at a standstill.
“A transportation study like the one I’m trying to get passed would be so beneficial because it would help us understand where the businesses are that need more parking or different styles of parking,” he said.
Nearby Corn Palace parking woes during events
Despite the volume of public parking scattered throughout downtown, some parts of the area experience more use than others.
Chief among the downtown areas that see increased parking is the Corn Palace. With the steady flow of basketball tournaments and events, Croce identified it as an area that does have scarce parking at times.
“When the basketball tournaments and games are taking place at the Corn Palace in the winter, it is tough to find a parking spot relatively close,” Croce said. “I’ve heard there are even some people from other towns that don’t want to come watch a game strictly because of parking problems, so parking is a big deal.”
Excluding the side street parking spots in front of the Corn Palace, there are currently eight public parking lots within at least two blocks from the Corn Palace, which includes the City Hall lot (39 spaces), TMA lot (102 spaces), Mitchell Area Community Theatre lot (55 spaces), Seventh Avenue and North Lawler Street lot also known as Disco lot (220 spaces), Fifth Avenue and Main Street lot (46 spaces), Corn Palace Plaza lot behind Scoreboard Pub and Grille (26 spaces), Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce lot on the corner of Sixth Avenue and North Rowley Street (33 spaces) and the Seventh Avenue and North Rowley Street lot (60 spaces). That means there are 581 spots available in a two-block radius from the Corn Palace, including handicap parking.
However, some Corn Palace events draw crowds of up to 1,500 to 2,000 people, which provides evidence that more parking near the Corn Palace could be needed.
A potential solution to bring more parking in close proximity to the Corn Palace, albeit an expensive one, could be the addition of a parking garage nearby, Croce said.
“Parking garages are great because the levels that stack up on each other can park so many vehicles in a smaller area,” Croce said.