The start of construction on a large parcel of undeveloped land downtown has caused the loss of at least 70 public parking spaces.
The property that abuts Lithia Way near its intersection with First Street is fenced off now that crews have started excavation for a new, 18,577-square-foot building that will feature business and condominium space. Meanwhile, several parking spaces abutting the downtown Plaza island were eliminated this month.
for the Mail Tribune
Parking fine revenue is on an upswing, indicating that more residents and visitors are having trouble finding adequate parking downtown.
Most downtown parking spots are governed by two- to four-hour time limits, which the city of Ashland has long had in place.
The city contracts with Diamond Parking to enforce parking regulations.
In the 2009 fiscal year, parking fine revenue was $93,511, according to data provided by the city of Ashland.
Revenue dipped into $80,000 territory during the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, then jumped to $105,330 in 2012.
Through May 31 of this year, revenue was at $101,977, with the fiscal year set to close at the end of June — a month that sees heavy traffic as the Oregon Shakespeare Festival season kicks into high gear.
If revenue in June equals average revenue for other months in the 2013 fiscal year, net revenue for the year would close out at about $111,250.
Despite the increase in parking fines, people are not flocking in droves to the Hargadine parking garage, which is located on Hargadine Street behind OSF's Thomas Theatre, formerly called the New Theatre.
The public garage is managed by the city.
Garage revenue was in the mid to high $90,000s in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, but dipped to $80,774 in 2012.
During the summer of 2011, OSF's Angus Bowmer Theatre suffered a cracked beam. Although OSF and the rest of the community found alternate venues for plays scheduled in the temporarily disabled theater, attendance fell.
Months from July 2011 onward were recorded in the city's 2012 fiscal year. The drop in attendance, and a related drop in Hargadine parking, may have impacted the 2012 revenue numbers for the garage, City Administrator Dave Kanner said.
Through May 31 of this year, parking garage revenue was at $83,349.
If June receipts average revenue from other months in the 2013 fiscal year, the year will close out with revenues of almost $91,000.
Daily parking fees at the Hargadine garage range from $1 to $3, and monthly $20 passes are available.
The garage sometimes has few cars, but is packed at other times, especially when OSF plays are scheduled.
The Ashland Planning Department has been fielding complaints about the loss of parking on the undeveloped land along Lithia Way, staff members said. The land sat vacant for years after Copeland Lumber and an office and condominium complex were cleared away to make way for new development.
In 2005, a 70,000-square-foot building known as Northlight was proposed for the land, but was rejected as too large by the Ashland Planning Department.
The land was then divided, with plans to construct several smaller buildings there, but when the real estate market collapsed, developers lost the property to a bank.
Last summer, Medford-based First Place Partners won Planning Commission approval to build the 18,577-square-foot building on the site, with an anticipated start time this year.
The city of Ashland, which owns a public parking lot next to the undeveloped land, had been leasing the empty site to use as public parking, said Ashland Associate Planner Derek Severson.
With the start of construction, that land is now fenced off and no longer available for public parking, he said.
"They have been letting the city use it all that time," Severson said. "People came to look at it as public parking, but it was on private property."
About 50 to 55 paved parking spaces had been used by the public, he said.
People were not supposed to park on the graveled parts of the site but had been parking there, as well, Severson said.
Combined, the paved and gravel portions of the property created room for at least 70 parking spaces, he said.
Ashland resident Brent Thompson said he has had to kick more people out of his parking lot that serves a commercial building he owns on Oak Street. The building is a few blocks away from downtown.
Thompson said the parking problem got worse after the undeveloped Lithia Way land was fenced off, although he always faces problems because of the congested downtown parking situation and a lack of adequate parking at the popular Ashland Food Co-op on First Street.
On another parking front, people can no longer park up against the downtown Plaza island.
Before a winter and spring reconstruction of the Plaza, the curb encircling the island had been painted yellow, although people were allowed to temporarily park on one side of the island and use the area as a loading zone.
When the Plaza reconstruction was finished in April, the island curb was not painted.
For the past few months, people have grown accustomed to parking adjacent to the island.
On June 18, citing safety concerns in the congested Plaza area, the Ashland City Council endorsed a Transportation Commission recommendation to repaint the Plaza island curb yellow, creating a no-parking zone but allowing a temporary loading zone on one side of the island.
With the curbs now freshly painted yellow, the traditional parking situation around the Plaza island has been restored.
While the loss of parking spaces on the Plaza and along Lithia Way has many residents, workers and tourists hunting for alternative downtown parking spots, some people were philosophical about the changes.
Seaside resident Neil Branson, who was in Ashland to see an Oregon Shakespeare Festival play and has been visiting for decades, says he usually gets lucky and finds an empty spot close to the place he is trying to go.
If not, Branson said he parks in a lot along upper Lithia Park and enjoys the walk to the downtown area.
"A long walk to a play is just not a big deal," he said.
Boynton Beach, Fla., resident Elizabeth Way — also in town to see a play — said she parked in the Hargadine Street parking garage and was amazed that she had to pay only a few dollars to do so.
OSF box office employees had recommended the garage, Way said.
"I've had no parking problems so far," she said, noting that parking in Ashland is much easier than in South Florida.
Daily fees at the Hargadine parking garage, which is managed by the city, range from $1 to $3.
Some residents who frequent the downtown, such as employees of downtown businesses, buy monthly parking passes to the garage for $20 each, rather than searching for free parking lots or street-side parking.
To encourage vehicle turnover and access to downtown businesses, the city has two- and four-hour time limits in place for most free downtown parking spaces.
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.