BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Business-owners on Depot Street are taking a divided stance on downtown parking.
On Thursday, the Greeneville Parking Authority ended up at the center of a debate similar to a tug-of-war, with no concrete progress made by either side.
For the past several months and throughout Thursday's meeting, the Parking Authority has considered the benefits and drawbacks to increased fines, progressive fines, vouchers, parking meters, easier-to-read signs, and/or different time limits in different areas of the downtown section of Greeneville.
Charles E. Kyker, owner of five downtown business fronts, including Kyker's Department Store, and Paul B. Ragan, owner of Ragan Furniture, vehemently defended the current two-hour parking limits.
"I've been on Depot [Street] 49 years this September. I've never had problems with parking," Kyker said.
"Why does it keep being brought up? Why hasn't it been shelved? In two hours you get two-and-a-half hours."
"I agree," said Chairman Tim Teague.
"I know you agree, because that's right," Kyker replied.
An extra 30 minutes is given to avoid discrepancies in court on what time a person arrived at a parking space and what time the person left the space, Parking Officer Michael Knapp confirmed.
'THREE HOURS TOO LONG'
"I've got 8 to 9 spaces in front of my building. You ain't sitting in front of my building three-and-a half-hours," Kyker added.
"The parking is for everybody, not for one person. Well, the whole street [should be parking] for two hours."
Increasing the time to three hours would essentially give drivers three-and-a-half hours, a period Kyker said is just too long for someone to sit in front of his business.
"That's too long; you can't do that. It cuts me out," he said. "I've been downtown 62 years. Nobody knows more about parking than me. It's a turnover."
"They ain't sitting at my building," Kyker added. "I'll put handicaps all over that street, in front of all my buildings. It'll block the street. I'm not having it. You can't mistreat me like that, and these other merchants here."
When other business-owners questioned the meaning of "handicaps," Knapp explained that cars with handicap placards cannot be ticketed for being in one place for too long and can legally remain all day.
Ragan agreed with Kyker that there should not be any change to the parking time and said he has also spent 62 years on Depot Street, in which he has seen the limit help with turnover.
'TWO HOURS NOT ENOUGH'
Sisters Vickie Gregory and Rebecca Wolfe, owners of the Greeneville Antique Market on Depot Street, said two hours is not enough for tourists or shoppers, and said that the limit is driving away business.
"We face that every day, asking the question, 'Will we get a ticket?'" Gregory said of customers. "Yes, they'll get a ticket. [Knapp] marks their car as soon as they park. It's a ticket that's off-putting to our business.
"How unfriendly is it for a person to come to downtown and know that in two hours, by golly, get out of there or you are going to get a ticket.
"I don't know if you all are going through with your proposal to increase the fine on that ticket, but you're going to nail the door shut," she added.
Wolfe agreed, explaining that the two-hour limit can be difficult for tourists, in particular.
"Most people in Greeneville and Greene County know it's two-hour parking, but when people come from out of town and they are ticketed, they have said, 'We don't want to come back,'" Wolfe said.
'CONSIDER THE REVENUE'
Greeneville Alderman Darrell Bryan was also present and spoke in favor of extending the two-hour limit.
He was present both as a town official and as executive director of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center (NPAC), located only two blocks off North Main Street on Tusculum Boulevard.
"We've got to be more conducive to the consumer. We're having trouble right now with budgets, and what we're doing, it appears to me, is driving people away if we're not careful," Bryan said.
"I would like to see it put on the table, for 90 days, to try three hours, see what the difference is. We're sitting here saying 'It won't work.' Well, how do you know it won't work? Have we ever done three hours?
"I'm not saying that's the solution, but what we're saying, 'We're going to do the same thing.' Well, how does that solve any problem?
"I'm looking at dollars that are coming into the town. I'm looking at sales tax dollars. They are increasing a little bit, but not a whole lot," Bryan said.
"We need to do everything we can to help the business people. To me, we're not doing that," he added.
Parking Authority member Doug Payne noted that the authority must consider revenues as well -- the revenues received from the parking tickets that help balance the cost of having a parking officer.
"It's a serious revenue question," he said. "We've got an employee to pay."
Local attorney Kidwell King, whose office is on South Main Street, was also present for most of the meeting, but did not participate in the discussion.
FURTHER STUDY PLANNED
"We want to do everything we can to keep all four of you downtown," Teague assured the Depot Street business owners near the close of the meeting.
However, the replies back from the business owners were likely not encouraging.
"I've never said nothing in Greeneville that's been wrong," Kyker said. "Everything I've said has come true; they should have listened to me.
"That's all right, my time is over anyway. I'm 73; I don't care. I'll close tomorrow."
"We're dead," he added.
"Greeneville is dead," Gregory replied.
Bryan had earlier made similar statements as well.
"We're at the stage now that we're going to have to do something or we're going to lose downtown, period," he warned.
Teague said that some changes may need to be made, especially in light of the added traffic that may come from Walters State Community College's planned expansion.
However, the chairman also explained that the Town is not directly responsible for providing parking when new businesses locate here. The Greeneville Planning Commission requires each business to designate an area where they can supply sufficient parking for their customers, Alderman Keith Paxton further explained.
Teauge called on Knapp to investigate the details of the various proposed options to improve the parking situation for further discussion at the next meeting, to be held at 8 a.m., Monday, Sept. 10, in the boardroom at Town Hall.