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First Friday

Clear skies and a balmy night greeted pedestrians strolling downtown Flagstaff for the First Friday Artwalk Friday night.

Downtown Flagstaff may be short only about 160 parking spaces -- or at least, that was the conclusion of a city commissioned study done in August of last year.

In addition, last year’s study, which also covered the more commercial areas of the Southside north of Butler Avenue, concluded that those sections of the Southside had nearly 600 surplus spaces even during peak hours.

But this all came as a surprise to much of Flagstaff City Council and members of the downtown business community, who expressed skepticism as to the conclusion, especially as a 2009 study showed downtown was short about 600 spaces.

The recent study was conducted to help the city determine the future of the former home of the municipal courthouse after the new courthouse is constructed. The study could also influence how to utilize money set aside from the ParkFlag program that is devoted to finding parking solutions.

Terry Madeksza, the executive director of the Downtown Business Alliance, was among those that expressed frustration and concern over the study’s conclusion.

Madeksza said she and other stakeholders were concerned that the results may lead the council to conclude that a lack of parking spaces downtown is no longer an issue.

Madeksza added that she doesn’t believe the parking issues downtown are all that different now compared to 10 years ago.

“ParkFlag is doing a great job,” Madeksza said. “We are incredibly strong advocates for the work of ParkFlag and the staff, but is there still a need for additional parking supply, absolutely.”

Madeksza also expressed frustration that two city studies would come to such different conclusions, with one study putting the shortfall at 600 spaces and suggesting the construction of a parking garage downtown while another put the shortfall at only 160 spots. All the while, Madeksza said, downtown business owners are taxing themselves extra, specifically for finding parking solutions.

And much of the council seemed to agree with Madeksza’s assessment.

“What has happened from the time when we needed 600 spaces? Our growth has been more; the college community has grown,” Councilmember Jamie Whelan said.

The difference in conclusions seems to have occurred, at least in part, due to a change in methodology between the 2009 and 2018 studies.

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For example, one difference was that the 2009 study treated each block as an island with its own parking needs. The 2018 study, on the other hand, measures parking in a more fluid manor, factoring in the way people might park a block or two away from their destination before walking to where they need to go.

But Council did not see this as an improvement, with many comparing the difference in methodology in the studies to comparing apple with oranges.

According to city staff, the study was meant to capture the parking situation during tourist season, but Whelan criticized the study for not including the NAU community, with its Aug. 2 date meaning most students were likely out of town.

“I understand taking the count during the peak tourist visitation, but there are no students during that time, or a limited number of students,” Whelan said. "And this is especially applicable for the Southside.”

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni agreed, adding he was concerned that the study did not capture a time after the opening of the Southside student housing development known as the Hub.

Mayor Coral Evans also concurred and said she did not believe the study captured the true effect of the ParkFlag system, which, while improving parking in the area of downtown, may have pushed those looking for free parking into surrounding neighborhoods.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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