Susan Hildalgo is an unofficial downtown ambassador.
Wherever she goes, she often finds herself encouraging people to come experience the vibrancy many never thought possible 10 years ago, she said.
There are new shops, restaurants, The Carolina Theatre, and many events.
“The only bugaboo is the parking,” said Hildalgo, while making a run into Dolly’s Vintage, a clothing, accessories and gift shop downtown.
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As downtown becomes more popular, parking spaces are starting to fill up more often, particularly on days with more than one special event, such as a Durham Bulls game and a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Drivers start seeing signs that public decks only have room for monthly renters.
“It’s obviously a big problem,” said Gabe Eng-Goetz, owner of Runaway, an apparel store and art space that opened downtown April 2. “It’s becoming sort of a nightmare.”
Some circle the downtown loop looking for a spot in spaces that typically only allow people to park for 30 minutes to an hour, not much time to eat or shop, Hildalgo said.
In some ways, downtown Durham is becoming a victim of its own success.
According to a 2013 study, the four primary off-street public parking facilities within the downtown loop had 2,160 spaces, or 87 percent of the parking supply in the area. Back then the occupancy of those spaces averaged about 80 percent, according to the sity.
But that was before new developments such as the 21c Museum Hotel, The Durham Hotel and other downtown businesses.
“All of our garages have reached their maximum parking with monthly parkers,” said Thomas Leathers, who oversees parking in the city’s Department of Transportation. Five businesses have made parking requests that couldn’t be met.
The city plans to build a new 800-space parking deck on Morgan Street across from McDonald’s on an existing surface lot. It was set to open in the summer of 2018
That timeline, however, may be delayed. On Monday night the City Council will discuss whether to postpone construction in order to include affordable housing in the project.
In addition to the parking, the current plan includes areas for retailers and offices.
However, one of the bids on the project incorporates 25 affordable housing units.
If the council decides to include affordable housing, it could take two more years for additional studies and the bidding process.
Mayor Bill Bell said he needs more details, such as who would own the affordable housing units, how affordable would they be, and what would that mean for the height of the building.
If those answers take a month or two, Bell said it’s worth taking the time to explore. But if it takes many months, the decision isn’t as easy.
Lew Myers, interim president of Downtown Durham Inc. said that there is “very critical shortage” of parking downtown. While affordable housing is important, he has concerns about delaying the new garage until 2020.
“I am not sure what the interim solution would be for parking,” he said.
Jennifer Noble, general manager at the Durham Convention Center, said a delay would hurt the center’s ability to attract and capture business for the Bull City.
Jennifer Donner, who owns Dolly’s Vintage, said she received a call from an employee recently who couldn’t find a parking space in the Corcoran Street garage, even though she had a monthly pass.
Gerry Link, general manager of 21c, said the hotel in the former CCB/SunTrust building leases spaces in the Corcoran garage.
“We are aware that parking is tight in the decks, particularly on some of the busier week days, and occasionally on some of the multi-event evenings,” he said.
There have been instances in which the garage is full.
The hotel still offers valet parking to customers, but their valets have to run a little farther, he said.