Can someone explain this? Businesses immediately adjacent to the City Dock parking area in downtown Annapolis have all closed recently, including one upscale seafood restaurant, and one specialty ice cream shop which has a sheriff’s eviction notice on the door.
I bring this up because some folks believe a proposed 450-space parking garage on Compromise Street is an important piece of the puzzle in downtown Annapolis’ revitalization. Inadequate parking is a dagger in the heart of the business district. More convenient parking on the waterfront will mean more business, the argument goes.
I have my doubts about this theory, partly because it doesn’t seem to square with the facts.
If convenient parking is the magic elixir for downtown how do businesses with the best parking in the area go out of business? The now defunct Hells Point Seafood restaurant had terrific parking, and a great view of Spa Creek. Right next door, Aroma d’italia also is shuttered, and two doors down another business is for sale. Coincidence? A dispute with a landlord?
If inadequate parking is the cause of downtown’s vacancies, how is Hillman’s Garage two blocks from the waterfront half empty on weekends, according to a city consultant’s report last year?
Here’s my theory. Downtown Annapolis is now a destination mostly for tourists, and for residents who want a meal or a drink. Major shopping areas such as the Annapolis Mall, Parole Towne Center, and Annapolis Harbor Shopping Center have all but drained the serious shoppers from downtown.
I also suspect that the majority of tourists that come here are day trippers who just want a pleasant hour or two walking around, soaking up the ambience, maybe stopping into a few shops, grabbing some crab cakes and an ice cream cone.
Businesses that cater to this set will do ok, those that don’t will not.
But there is something the city can do to help. What’s missing downtown isn’t parking spaces. City consultants have all said there’s plenty, just not enough signs to show people where to park. What’s also missing is a comprehensive vision for downtown.
The best strategy to save downtown Annapolis, I believe, is this: make it like a European city, but with T-shirt shops. That means as pedestrian friendly as possible. Historic Annapolis should be a sort of Disney theme park for those who like to escape the car culture on foot, or on rented bicycles, water taxis, or on silent electric vehicles.
More parking spaces won’t do it. In fact, the more we cater to the car downtown, the more we ensure the economic decline of the historic area. Add a 450-space parking garage on the waterfront, and you will create the very congestion and fumes visitors want to escape. The parking subcommittee of the City Dock Advisory Committee concluded as much last year when it determined there should be no net increase in the number of parking spaces at the waterfront if the City Dock parking area is turned into a park.
We want to brand the downtown areas as a throw-back alternative to shopping centers for visitors and residents alike. That will increase the area’s appeal, and increase business.
To do that Mayor Cohen and the City Council must take a few simple but bold steps.
First, once a month on Sunday make the downtown area off-limits to cars, except for cars if the historic district residents. I’m talking from Church Circle to City Dock, and from Duke of Gloucester Street to King George’s Street.
Prepare city residents with a marketing and education campaign. Help them find alternative parking at the underused city, county and state garages around the rim of this downtown area. You might have to make Duke of Gloucester Street two-way to allow motorists from the Eastport area to access Hillman Garage or to bypass the downtown altogether via Church Circle.
Then gradually start adding other Sundays as car-free in downtown Annapolis. Necessity is the mother of human behavior change. Residents will learn to use all parking garages, and all transportation services already provided by the city.
Also, for tourists, install electronic signs starting at key entry points to the city that guide them to the rim parking garages. The current signs are awful.
The city also should market distinct areas of the downtown to visit: the Naval Academy; Maryland Avenue and the Capital building; West Street, Main Street, City Dock area, and Eastport. Again, help visitors find their way these areas.
You want to create an experience for the visitor, a return to a quieter, more peaceful, more aesthetic America—but one with blueberry martinis.
That’s a heck of a lot more appealing than white lines on a concrete slab.