Roswell leaders debate ways to fix downtown parking woes

Elizabeth Way at Canton Street is in the heart of historic downtown Roswell. (Ben Brasch/AJC)
Elizabeth Way at Canton Street is in the heart of historic downtown Roswell. (Ben Brasch/AJC)

Whether it’s a shuttle or a task force or a garage, Roswell leaders agree they must do something about parking along the city’s entertainment district on Canton Street.

Members of the Roswell City Council at Wednesday’s Community Development and Transportation Committee meeting discussed ways to get people visiting (and spending money) in their historic downtown.

Discussion about a six-person electric shuttle to take downtown workers and guests from City Hall to a parking lot off Canton was deferred to the next committee meeting, along with talks about creating a committee to focus on improving downtown parking.

The idea of a shuttle came from downtown business owners who feel they are being harmed by the lack of parking on Canton Street, and that the situation will only get worse as Roswell continues to develop.

“They’re either leaving or not coming down there due to that parking issue,” city administrator Gary Palmer said of potential customers.

A cost estimate for the shuttle is between $2,200 and $6,800 a month, depending on the level of service. The estimate was provided by 12 Oaks, which handles the majority of valet services downtown.

Palmer said the long-term solution is a parking deck garage, which people have been talking about for years.

City officials are concerned because Canton is the heart of Roswell, with people often buzzing around restaurants and boutiques tucked between historic sites.

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Parts of downtown date back to before the Civil War, during which Union General William T. Sherman burned down the city's mills and deported 400 workers to the north. Most were women who never returned, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Swathes of the downtown area have been on the National Register of Historic Places since the mid-70s. So between federal and local restrictions on the historic land, it isn't easy to make changes in the area.

City officials often point out the many historic downtown sites when pitching Roswell.

Councilman Mike Palermo brought forward the idea of the downtown parking committee. He said a formal group has a better chance of fixing the complex issue than the cycle of elected officials starting and stopping.

Palermo wasn’t sure of the exact parameters of the group, but said it would be important for the members to be a mix of business owners and residents who won’t appear to have “pre-determined what the decision is” in any vote.

None of the council members voiced opposition to the idea, but Palermo agreed it needed more work. The discussion was deferred to the Feb. 26 meeting so he could better refine the idea.

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No matter the solution, people are worried that the future viability of downtown could be affected by parking and ease of access.

One of them is Zachary Bramblett, who started Roux on Canton, an upscale Southern restaurant, nearly 10 years agoHe recently opened Fellows Cafe on Green Street.

Foot traffic is down, he said, along with the number of people driving to the restaurants because families and would-be visitors from out of town don’t want to hunt for parking.

“I think families are less likely to walk a longer distance, and Roswell is becoming more and more popular for families,” said Bramblett, who graduated from Roswell High School.

Bramblett said he would be in favor of a shuttle, and improving pedestrian access with things like wider sidewalks.

“As more and more restaurants have come … it’s been hard and there’s less people to go around for sure,” he said.

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