HOW WE SEE IT: Parking near Dickson Street on the agenda again

To park or not to park in Fayetteville

Parking lots are not very nice to look at. They're generally treeless, flat and unappealing to the eye. They aren't good for much of anything except, well, parking cars (or other means of transportation). But for the task of storing cars for the short term, they're pretty efficient.

The large parking area on the southwest corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue in Fayetteville isn't much to look at -- though as parking lots go, we've seen worse. For those attending shows at the Walton Arts Center across West Avenue or hitting one of the nightspots along Dickson, it's pretty convenient. And it's popular given the complicated nature of other parking options in that part of town, what with its numbered spots, the payment stations, the mix of public and private lots, etc.

WHAT’S THE POINT: If Fayetteville’s going to have an entertainment district that draws people for all around, they have to someplace to park their cars.

Any business district where large numbers of people gather at roughly the same time on certain days is going to require parking places and Fayetteville's Dickson Street area is no exception.

That big city-owned lot on West Avenue is very convenient, especially for Walton Arts Center patrons. For some, however, it's location also means its use for surface parking falls short of the property's potential. In other words, some think Fayetteville can use that space more effectively as shared "civic space" -- a place where people can gather surrounded by nature, art, a small amphitheater or other cultural or "quality of life" amenities.

That's exactly what a lot of folks want to see happen at West and Dickson: Replace the big, ugly parking lot with an attractive civic space to further establish Fayetteville's commitment to the arts and the people who revel in them.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan gets it, but he also gets that if there's no place for people headed to the arts district to store their cars, it will be a pretty empty civic space (not to mention the empty restaurants, clubs and entertainment venues).

So the city commissioned a study to look at where replacement parking can be built if the West Avenue lot is to be converted to something else. That study, performed by Garver Engineering, lists a number of alternatives for adding parking.

All seem to promise even more spaces than are currently available, though all would require a longer walk to the centerpiece feature of the arts district, the Walton Arts Center.

One of the options the study mentions seems to be a non-starter out of the gate. It proposes to tear down Nadine Baum Studios, located just south of the West Avenue parking lot, in favor of a four-story parking deck. It seems a waste to tear down a perfectly good, well-utilized building to accommodate parking, especially when other options are available. Jordan himself expressed some doubts about that location.

Another potential spot seems problematic, but not impossible. It would put a three- to four-story parking garage near or at the northwest corner of Dickson and West, in front of Arsaga's Coffee Shop. While this location would be pretty close to the Walton Arts Center entrances, the structure would block the view of businesses like Arsaga's from the street. Also, the land is privately owned and would have to be acquired.

Another location, where the city already owns most of the property, might be the least challenging option. It's a lot to the south and east of the Walton Arts Center at School Avenue and Spring Street. At most, it would require the removal of a couple of houses, and maybe not even that. It would also be the farthest from Walton Arts Center entrances.

Frankly, none of the locations would be as convenient to the arts center as the existing lot along West. But they would replace and even increase the number of parking places in the district while making room for the "civic space" many folks see as vital for the development of the arts district.

We may be getting ahead of ourselves. To make the civic space a reality, Fayetteville voters will have to agree to extend a 1 percent sales tax for a number of municipal projects, one of which could be for the development of an "arts corridor" in the entertainment district. The special election is April 9.

If that happens, then the debate about where a new parking deck should go will commence in earnest.

Commentary on 03/22/2019

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