Parking and downtown redevelopment
I wish to comment on the downtown redevelopment project that has been designed and proposed for McCook. I have practiced in downtown McCook for the past 39 years and have had growing concerns that McCook is out of touch with downtown to its detriment. Time and again surveys show the greatest concern for downtown is parking.
Yet the city has removed critical parking at the corners of West 1st and C Street as well as two spaces in the 200 block of West 1st. The city also occasionally plows snow into the gutters and onto the curbs covering the decorative brick of our sidewalks. This presents an icy crossing to those that do find a space and deteriorates the mortar between the brick.
The redevelopment plan proposes to eliminate even more parking on the west side of the former Ben Franklin store and the west portion of McCook National Bank's private parking lot by converting them to green spaces. The plan eliminates nine parking spaces along the north side of the Keystone building and puts a park in its place. Historically, these employees are likely going to park on the street. Operation of the Fox Theater will be harmed as they will have difficulty finding space for its performers' vehicles to park, load, and unload.
The 100 block of West C Street has never had adequate parking, but it has gradually worsened as McCook's downtown has changed from a primarily retail area to one that has an increased number of non-retail employees. The number of employees has increased as the available parking decreased.
I and my staff daily see business owners and their employees parking in front of our building, their own businesses, and their neighbors. Employees from businesses on Norris Avenue also park on this block rather than park in front of their businesses. This gotten so bad that a few years ago we had to periodically call the police to ticket abusers in front of our business. This had limited success as employees would monitor the chalking of tires and move their vehicles around to erase the marks. Finally, about two years ago, the police would no longer respond to enforce the 2-hour parking law and help protect our business from abusers.
We learned over the past four decades from well- known downtown businessmen and women, as well as from our own experience that employees will not walk very far to parking. The additional 100 spaces that will be added will be in the area of East 1st and D as well as East 1st and A Street are much too far away from the businesses that employees work at and patrons frequent to be of any value. The current lot at East 1st and D is largely unused and will remain that way even with beautification.
Almost two years ago, I went to the City Council and proposed that the former Ben Franklin store be torn down and a parking lot put in its place. My proposal was to have property owners who would benefit from it pay for it.
I had great support from these owners until the city said it would cost $300,000 for the project in addition to the $35,000 to $40,000 cost of purchasing the property. With the recession at its height, the owners could not afford this. It is very unfortunate that the city did not undertake this project at the time. Since then, the building fašade was renovated and a sports practice facility was put in its place.
This has only made the problem worse, as these college athletes park in this area during the afternoons and other athletes on Thursday evenings when our clinic is open.
The former True Hall gym would have been a perfect sports practice facility, but was turned into a garage.
Upper-story apartments will be promoted with the plan. We have just such an apartment on our half block, and at least one if not two vehicles are parked on the street all day taking up valuable parking.
Upper story apartments that do not have off-street parking of their own should be eliminated in downtown.
Trees are planned to be placed though out downtown and, while I find them very esthetically pleasing, this was done a number of years ago.
Most of the trees died within a few years after they were planted and the result are scars in the decorative sidewalks. Trees do not belong in a concrete jungle.
Curb extensions are proposed to make it safer for pedestrians to cross intersections. These will narrow the intersections, make snow removal more difficult, and reduce available parking even more. I have seen vehicles and semi-trailers roll over the ones that were put into place along B Street. They become a hazard to traffic. We do not have a safety problem now and money should not be spent to solve a problem that does not exist.
The redevelopment plan is a very expensive makeover of downtown. The enthusiasm created by it will be short lived and the result will be more business lost in downtown McCook. I urge everyone to study the plan and to make their thoughts known to those who will be making this decision.
The issue of redeveloping down town and more parking must be found within its core. Money spent for parking that would be useful for employees and business on Norris Avenue and West 1st from B to D Streets is desperately needed.
I believe that additional parking can be developed in this area if McCook is willing to spend $2 to $3 million as proposed.
I appreciate the money that has been spent and efforts by the EDC to work to revitalize downtown McCook.
Let's come up with a plan that will actually work to benefit and grow business in this area.
Michael R. Nielsen, D.C.