Dickson Street Merchants survey patrons on downtown parking perceptions

Staff photo

Dickson Street Businesses last month surveyed more than 1,000 their customers, and found that a majority of them are still dissatisfied with the parking situation in the entertainment district.

According to the survey, conducted by members of the Dickson Street Merchants Association from April 17-30 this year, 64% of respondents said they don’t feel there is enough parking on Dickson Street or around the Walton Arts Center, 71% said that parking was a factor in the decision to come to Dickson Street, and 77% said the parking experience on Dickson Street needs improvement.

A sample of the survey card distributed to Dickson Street patrons by the DSMA

The business owners said their goal with the survey was to document the issues they’ve been informally hearing from their customers for years.

“We really just wanted to reinforce what we’ve been hearing every day from our customers, and that’s that parking is a real problem,” said Bill Waite, owner of Dickson Street Liquor and member of the DSMA. “What’s really troubling is it’s starting to influence customer behavior. We’ve been hearing that people don’t want to come to Dickson Street because of parking.”

DSMA member Joe Fennel said he wanted to be able to add the voices of the patrons most effected by the parking situation – regular Dickson Street patrons – to the larger discussion.

“We wanted to find out not just what the City of Fayetteville as a whole thinks, we want to know what the folks who are coming down here and spending money think about this parking deal,” Fennel said. “We said, ‘Why not ask them ourselves?'”

The DSMA released their findings this week in advance of a larger study currently in the works by San Franscisco-based consulting firm, Nelson/Nygaard, that is expected to be presented to the city council May 30. The consultants have been working on the city’s Mobility Plan that includes an examination of issues around parking, biking, walking, busing and driving in Fayetteville.

Nelson/Nygaard will also be conducting their final three public “mobility workshop” input sessions May 30-June 1 in Fayetteville.

Waite said the DSMA felt the timing was right to release their findings in concert with the Nelson/Nygaard study.

“It’s a good time to take a look at things,” he said. “We hope the study accurately portrays the problem so that we can collectively and cooperatively start looking at solutions.”

Dickson Street merchants are also particularly concerned with proposals that have come before the city council to develop all or part of the city’s West Avenue lot (locally referred to as the Walton Arts Center lot), a large publicly-owned lot located at the southwest corner of West Avenue and Dickson Street.

“Our whole thing is, we built this parking deck because we were short on parking, and now we have a deck, and there are certain people that want to develop that (West Avenue) lot,” Fennel said. “That’s kind of a crazy thing, I think.”

The merchants have opposed attempts to develop the lot, and have called for a halt on development that reduces public parking in the district.

“We need to understand what steps can be taken immediately to make parking a better experience for customers and what solutions are needed to improve the future of parking in the Arts and Entertainment District – before we give up additional public parking for private developments,” DSMA member Carl Collier said.

A lack of parking in the area wasn’t the only issue identified in the DSMA survey. 37% of respondents said they faced education or communication issues in regards to parking on Dickson Street, including not knowing where to park, not being able to find the parking kiosk, or being confused by the kiosk.

“Education is a big, big part of it,” Fennel said. “That’s something that we’ve all got to get a handle on. We’ve got to let people know where they can park down here and make it as painless as possible.”

The entire results of the DSMA survey are available to download here (PDF).