Forum discusses ways to ease downtown parking crunch; Expanded shuttle service, new garage among options being explored


At its first business forum of the year, the Historic Annapolis Foundation addressed yesterday a topic on the mind of almost everyone there -- parking.

More than 30 city officials, business owners and residents gathered over breakfast at Loews Annapolis Hotel and discussed promoting shuttle service between the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium lot and downtown, collaborating with county and state officials to alleviate strain on public garages, and updating plans for a proposed parking structure.

"Parking is not such a nightmare," said Idell Wertz, president of the Annapolis Business Association. "We're trying to deal with it."

Many agreed that the city should further encourage use of its shuttle to and from the 5,000-space stadium parking lot. The city's Department of Transportation operates shuttle service from 6: 30 a.m. to about 6 p.m., sometimes later.

Paul M. Foer, the department's marketing specialist, said the shuttles carried 220,000 people last year. The shuttle charges 75 cents to ride downtown, and the return trip is free.

"We're advertising in different places to the extent that we can," Foer told the crowd, adding that he has met with several businesses to promote the service.

Barry Jackson, a developer who said he lost a potential tenant because of inadequate parking on Inner West Street, said, "You have to make this thing as easy and pleasant as possible."

Danielle Sydne Matland, the city's transportation director, said in an interview later yesterday that the department has a contract with the state to run two stadium shuttles most of the day, and three during rush hour. The shuttles run every 10 to 15 minutes. But, she said, to be most effective, four shuttles are needed during rush hour, and shuttles should run every five minutes.

"There's definitely a demand," she said, noting the increased parking shortage caused while the legislature is in session.

Some forum participants suggested that city, county and state employees be asked to park at the stadium to leave the maximum number of spaces in the two public garages downtown for shoppers.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson said the city has 90 parking passes at the 435-space Hillman garage (and uses about 50 daily), and six at the 550-space Gott's Court garage.

Andrew C. Carpenter, a spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens, was unable last night to provide the number of county spaces in both garages.

Carpenter said the county is committed to helping address the parking shortage but has not been approached about a plan to use the stadium lot. "Frankly, Ms. Owens was unaware of it, and surprised to learn about it," he said.

The city is considering plans to demolish seven buildings in the 100 block of West St. and construct a parking garage. In response to city preservationists' concerns that five of the houses are historically significant, the city agreed to delay demolition to investigate the structures.

Johnson said yesterday that preliminary studies have found that the old buildings contribute to the "fabric" of West Street, and that the city is working on plans for the garage.

The foundation, which focuses on preserving Annapolis' past and shaping its future, has held the forums since last spring. They are held every three months, and the next is scheduled for May 4, said Blair Burke Kaine, director of development.

"The forums are intended to improve communication between business owners, residents and preservationists," she said.

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