The Ottawa City Commission approved the closing the alley behind the Main Street businesses between First and Second streets during construction of Legacy Square.
Business owners and project officals have been at odds over the parking situation. The owners met with Josh Walker, Loyd Builders, and John Coen, Ottawa Chamber of Commerce CEO/President, to discuss the options a few times. The owners were upset by the loss of parking in the First and Walnut parking lot and access to the alley.
Three options were presented to them. The first was to construct the project all at once, which would take around six months. Walker said the best case scenario is they could have access to the alley in about a month. Options two and three provided more temporary parking, but Walker said both options would add up to six months to the construction and increase costs by six figures.
Both parties met with commissioners at Monday’s study session before the vote. Coen started with an update of what had been changed since the issue first came up three weeks ago.
“Rick Dietz has volunteered his passage way through the building and there will be video surveillance, so that people will be abel to park on Main Street and get back to the alley in the vicinity of Mug Shot Coffee,” he said. “We did the one way traffic (in the alley) the opposite way around from what we originally planned as per the suggestion of the business owners. We have put in timed parking right on First Street so it will be back out to the west. So we are going to put five spots there for Mug Shot and it will be timed parking. We’re putting in timed parking in front of the pharmacy which will allow prescription drop off and drug pickup. We’ve created the angle parking on Walnut and First Street and we are prepared to sign all of this so people understand the changes.”
Walker presented all three options to the commission. He stated the scope of the project was bigger than some realized and it was more than just a parking lot and a canopy.
Walker said the best of the three options was to do the project all at once to save time and money. He said the business disruption and the ease of use to customers would be better if the project went that way.
Brent Mathis, owner of Ruff to Fluff Pet Salon, spoke for the business owners that endorsed option one, but asked for some concessions. He asked for both east and west of the 100 block of South Main to have the asphalt patched and for it to be re-striped before the alley is closed. He asked for signage to allow stop and drops in the right-hand lane on Main Street for deliveries to let someone out.
He asked for the temporary parking spots to be marked before the fence goes up and for the complete work detail to be made available to business owners before the work starts. Mathis added other concerns as well.
Also supporting option one was Jeff Carroll, owner of Ottawa Bike and Trail.
“We started our business in October and one of the primary reasons we located on Main Street where we did was because of the trails but also the Legacy Park project,” he said. “When we saw that we just wanted to know how fast we could get in there and take advantage of that. We’re going to see the benefits for sure, were planning some events. One of the concerns for us is the seasonality. We’re going to see most of our business in the summer and when it gets cold, it slows down a lot. So for me the excitement of getting it up and running in August as opposed to dragging it into winter is a big determining factor. If we can have the grand opening of the park and see the excitement in the fall, were going to get maximum benefits.”
Dana Coopey, owner of O-Town, has been vocal supporter of the project being constructed in phases. He gave the commission his support for option two.
“We have tried working hard together as a group,” he said. “With option two, it allows customers to park outside the development from each angle. This allows an additional 24 parking spaces along with what was provided on the north side of the build. This will create 56 spaces.”
Coopey said option one limits the options for businesses. He said the timed parking is great and it does help him during lunch.
John Gladman was more direct in his criticism of the plan. Although he said it was great to see how much the project officials and business owners had come together over the past three weeks, he was critical of the lack of communication from the chamber to business owners and moving forward, he believed, it needed to improve.
He helped establish Mug Shot Coffee and worked with Dietz to set up parking for the business on a piece of land he owned behind the business. That area, he said, was donated to the city for this project and felt the current plan was not what they had been told when the land was donated.
“When the option came up to donate, we felt it was better for the community to donate this piece of land,” he said. “But it was important to retain as much parking as we could for Mug Shot Coffee around the perimeter as possible. We established how much parking would be available at the end of this project. Along the alleyway there was supposed to be eight spaces, it’s been reduced to four. Along the southside it was nine to 10 spaces, it’s now reduced to six and along Walnut is was seven spaces and has now been reduced to four. Honestly I feel like this was a bait and switch. I don’t think the integrity of what’s happening here is very good and I think moving forward, communication must be better.”
The consensus from the commission was option one was the best way to get the project done as soon as possible, but the city was only being asked for approval to close the alley during construction. The items asked for by the business owners were not specifically addressed, but Walker said he would look at them and work with the business owners.
“The people in this room are going to have some challenges in the near future at least,” Commissioner Tom Weigand said. “I would encourage everyone to make every effort to park and support these businesses as much as possible during this difficult time. The key is to listen, to accommodate as much as possible and to keep communicating to the effected and to us. If you see something that could be improved on, keep that open channel during construction.”