Cary residents worry about downtown parking

snagem@newsobserver.comMay 14, 2014 

  • Fountain plans take shape

    After weeks of discussing ideas for a fountain in a new downtown Cary park, the Town Council has settled on a plan. Under a design proposal, the fountain would feature four columns with water cascading from the top. The bottom would feature bowls and shooting jets of water.

    The fountain would center the town square, which will likely feature space for concerts and other performances.

    “I think you’ve really captured what we were going for,” Councilman Don Frantz told town staff and planning consultants during a meeting May 8. “I’d like to leave the door open for creativity.”

— Plans for a town square and downtown street upgrades were met with excitement on Monday, but some people wanted to know one thing: Where’s everybody going to park?

“We’re going to spend $5 million to build a park and invite everyone downtown to see it, and there’s no place to park,” said Keith Brickman, 74, who lives near the Prestonwood community.

Cary has in the works a multi-million-dollar project that calls for an urban park and town square across from the Cary Arts Center and a revamped Academy Street with benches and new trees.

The plan is part of a larger effort to rejuvenate downtown. Cary spent about $10 million over a decade for 11 acres of the “opportunity site” along Academy Street. In addition to a park, town leaders hope the area will include private development.

Cary showed off plans during a public workshop on Monday at the Herb Young Community Center.

“I’m very enthusiastic about it,” said Nancy McNitt, 75, who lives near downtown. “I’m a little concerned about where everybody is going to park.”

There are about 540 parking spaces on the streets and in lots within two blocks of the park site, according to Paul Kuhn, facilities design and construction manager for Cary.

Some of those are by the Cary Arts Center and Cary Elementary School. There are about 25 spots near The Cary, a $6 million renovated theater the town opened on Chatham Street this year as part of rejuvenation efforts.

The town has an agreement with First United Methodist Church on Academy Street, which has 191 parking spaces available for public use.

When it comes to downtown parking, it’s a matter of people shifting the way they think about transportation, said Ted Boyd, Cary’s downtown development manager.

Many people in Cary are accustomed to shopping centers, where they park in a big lot in front of a store, Boyd said.

Downtown areas, however, require a “park-once mentality,” he said. Visitors should find a place to park and then walk to several destinations.

“If you go to downtown Apex, you know you’re not going to park right in front of (a business),” Boyd said. “You’re going to park and walk to it.”

Business concerns

Lee Rothstein, a sales specialist at Kitchen & Bath Galleries downtown, said he worried plans for Academy Street would hurt business. Parking will be a hassle, he said, and new trees would block visibility to the store.

“It’s foolish to take away parking. ... It’s not pro-business,” Rothstein said.

Sisters Anne Bland and June Mann own Gurkan’s Downtown Auto Repairs at the corner of Chatham and Academy streets. They said the property has been in their family since the 1800s, and they worry downtown construction will hinder operations.

Eventually, they said, they’d consider selling the site to the town. For now, though, they marvel at how much downtown Cary is changing.

“I’m for improvement. I’m for change. I’m for making things better,” said Bland, 72. “But I loved Cary the way it was.”

More changes will likely surface as downtown plans move forward. There’s been talk of moving the current downtown library onto the “opportunity site,” bound by Academy, Park, Walker and Walnut streets.

As for parking, town leaders have talked about the possibility of underground or deck parking in the area. Town Manager Ben Shivar has proposed spending $400,000 in the coming year for a parking design. The Town Council will have the final say.

In the meantime, David Kennedy will welcome an influx of visitors downtown. The 67-year-old lives on East Park Street and spends much of his time riding a bike along Cary’s streets. He said he looks forward to the day there will be more things to do downtown.

“I can’t wait ’til they put in a tavern and some place to dance,” he said.

Nagem: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @BySarahNagem

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