By Steven Hoffman
It isn’t exactly breaking news that Oxford could use additional parking in the downtown area. According to Sue Cole, the executive director of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., a parking study that was completed in 2012 illustrated the need for more spaces, and other studies prior to that revealed similar findings.
There are a total of 111 metered spaces in the heart of Oxford’s commercial district. With 100 properties in that district, the metered spaces aren’t always sufficient to meet the needs of the residents and the customers and employees of the businesses who regularly visit the downtown.
The 2012 parking study, which was completed by SSM Group, the borough’s engineering firm, concluded that in a downtown with more than 1,000 parking spaces, there is a deficit of about 328 parking spots.
Every town, small or large, has a parking problem—or at least the perception of a parking problem. But a recent uptick in business activity is making Oxford’s parking problem worse—and the need for a long-term solution even more pressing.
Cole said that Oxford has seen a large increase in evening activities in the last year, especially since Downtown Pasta and Flickerwood Wine Cellars opened their doors and the Octoraro Hotel & Tavern was renovated and reopened under new owners. On a recent Friday night, it was estimated that more than 400 people were in town—significantly more than the number of visitors who would have been in town on a Friday night in April in 2013.
“As we’ve had new investments in town, these new businesses have added evening hours,” Cole explained. “We haven’t had this volume of activities at night before. We’re encouraging our shops to extend their hours in the evening. Parking is at a premium. We’re all affected by it.”
In addition to the aforementioned businesses, La Sicilia has a loyal following. The Oxford Arts Alliance has a calendar filled with activities.
“The restaurants tend to be the bigger draw, but we do have other businesses that are now having more evening hours,” Cole said.
The 2012 parking study identified both low-cost and high-cost options to address the need for more parking. One of the low-cost options was to manage the parking spaces that are available so that they are utilized at maximum capacity.
Oxford Borough Council already approved changing the times when metered parking would be monitored from Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The idea behind extending the parking meter hours is to limit how long one car can occupy one spot without moving. There is a two-hour limit.
“What we’re trying to do,” Cole said, “is to maximize the spaces that we have. For any changes that we are going to make, we have to approach them in a very methodical way.”
Another solution that the parking study offered was to look at the borough-owned municipal lots and meter as many spots as possible. Cole said that Oxford Borough found the necessary funding to buy parking meters for 24 spaces in the municipal lot off Broad Street, and those meters should be installed within the next few months.
Cole said that conversations are underway with some property owners in the business district that have parking spaces that might not be used during the evening. This is another way to manage the spaces that are currently available.
At some point, as commercial growth continues to occur, Oxford may need to pursue one of the larger-scale options that were outlined in the parking study—such as acquiring a parcel for additional parking or seeking grants for a parking garage.
Cole said that the relationship between the business owners, Oxford Mainstreet, Inc., and Oxford Borough Council is very strong, which should help them work toward both short-term and long-term solutions.
“The borough has been extremely supportive since we’ve been experiencing this growth spurt,” Cole said. “Any change will take people time to get used to it. Our intention is to create an inventory of well-managed parking spaces.”
Cole said that it’s very important to manage the parking situation properly so that a lack of parking doesn’t stifle business growth at a critical point where there is momentum in the commercial district.
“Right now,” said Cole, “our focus needs to stay on the parking. We need to make sure that the experience the customers have when they come to downtown Oxford is a good one.”