Josh Bergeron: Does downtown Salisbury have parking problems?

Published 12:10 am Sunday, May 30, 2021

I think I’m coming around to the argument that downtown Salisbury has a parking problem or could have one in the near future.

For most of my time in Salisbury — both before and after the Bell Tower Green Park rid downtown of several hundred spots — I’ve believed there were plenty of parking spots for anything downtown Salisbury might host. There are certainly plenty of spots for restaurant and boutique store patrons on an average Friday or Saturday night. When court is in session, there is still plenty of parking.

I wonder, though, whether convenience might come close to its limit as events come back.

Think about the Norvell, Meroney and Lee Street theaters resuming in-person shows, concerts coming back to the Fish Bowl, people hosting events in Bell Tower Green Park, scheduling street festivals or the myriad community events that usually dot downtown’s calendar. Cruise-ins near the courthouse usually bring good-sized crowds, too. How about two or three of those happening at once in addition to the usual downtown restaurant traffic? If downtown Salisbury sees the construction of more downtown apartments, it could add more cars to the mix.

Filled parking spaces is good for downtown’s vitality, but it might be annoying for the people who have to drive around the block a few times.

How about when large events such as the Cheerwine Festival return? The few hundred cars that would otherwise park where Bell Tower Green will be will have to find somewhere else. The large parking lot at West End Plaza and Salisbury’s transit service might be even more valuable.

For another large event — Pops at the Post — parking won’t be concerning because Church Street is usually blocked off and people parked their chairs instead of cars in the adjacent lots.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s not a parking deck. It won’t be unless the Empire Hotel’s redevelopment is joined by another major project.

For now, the city still doesn’t need a solution. Even when crowds return to downtown en masse — something likely to happen because people are looking for a break from COVID-19 habits — the inconvenience of walking a little won’t be significant enough to deter someone from attending an event or enjoying a night out. As people examine their options, though, would they choose something else the next time? How about a baseball game and dinner in Kannapolis over events in downtown Salisbury? Maybe a trip to Charlotte or an attraction or event in rural Rowan County?

As events come back, Salisbury and Rowan County residents might again realize the benefits of living between some of the state’s largest cities. But it will also mean competition for folks charged with drawing people to downtown Salisbury.

In big cities such as Charlotte, people expect to do some walking to get to a final destination. They’ll do some walking, too, during a visit Concord Mills or another shopping center. People do not expect to walk a few blocks when they’re visiting a city that’s the size of Salisbury, and longstanding expectations can be tough to overcome when there are other options.

That’s why it’s worth re-evaluating the availability of downtown parking on a semi-regular basis. Maybe that’s once a year, after a few buildings are redeveloped to add apartments or if Salisbury’s Main Street plan is successful in getting people to stick around downtown for longer than a quick trip to a boutique.

Certainly, it needs to happen if the Empire Hotel redevelopment ever gets going.

A solution in that case could be paving all of the land around the Rowan County Magistrate’s Office and opening it up to the general public and better signage and maps about downtown parking options.

Because downtown Salisbury has some momentum, I think those solutions could be needed sooner than city officials might otherwise think.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.