Walton Arts Center, other business owners commission parking study for Dickson Street area

Group says new parking deck won't address future growth
Peter Lane, president and CEO of the Walton Arts Center, speaks alongside Matt Trantham, senior associate athletic director at the University of Arkansas, former City Councilmember Justin Tennant, and Bill Waite, owner of Dickson Street Liquor, during a press event on Wednesday, Sept. 14 in the arts center’s rose garden off Dickson Street in Fayetteville. (Fayetteville Flyer/Dustin Bartholomew)

FAYETTEVILLE — A group of downtown business owners, along with officials from the Walton Arts Center and University of Arkansas, will pay for a study to examine the current and future parking needs in the Dickson Street and Block Avenue areas.

The group will hire North Carolina-based consultant Kimley Horn to conduct the survey, which is expected to be completed over the next few months, officials said during a press event held Wednesday.

Consultants from the firm will be in Fayetteville for three upcoming weekends to evaluate parking needs, including Sept. 22-24 during the run of “Pretty Woman” at the Walton Arts Center, Sept. 29-Oct. 1 for the Arkansas-Alabama football game, and Oct. 7-8 for what the group considers a “non-event weekend.”

The study will focus on the entertainment district from Lafayette Street to the north, Meadow Street to the south, University/Arkansas avenues to the west, and St. Charles/Block Avenue to the east.

Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane said the goals for the study are to evaluate the current parking situation; to examine public perceptions and patron experiences; to asses the parking demand over the next 3-5 years; and to determine specific solutions, including how many parking spaces are needed, where they could be located and who should manage them.

Lane said the new parking deck that broke ground earlier this year will only serve to replace the parking that will eventually be lost when the current West Avenue lot (known locally as the WAC lot) is developed as part of the Upper Ramble of the cultural arts corridor.

Aerial view of the West Avenue lot (Walton Arts Center)

“That just maintains the status quo,” Lane said. “There are already plans for additional development in this area, and those do not address additional parking needs. We believe a comprehensive assessment will help everyone understand parking supply and demand so that informed decisions can be made for the area’s future growth.”

Others who spoke Wednesday discussed the challenges they have experienced with parking in the district.

“We all know it’s next to impossible to find parking anywhere near Dickson Street on any weekend during the school year,” said Bill Waite, owner of Dickson Street Liquor and a member of the Dickson Street Merchants Association. “These parking problems don’t just make for a less-than-desirable customer experience, they are also serving to turn people away from Dickson Street.”

It is not the first time that parking in the downtown area has been examined in recent years. The city in 2016 commissioned San Francisco-based consultants Nelson/Nygaard to develop a mobility and parking study for the entirety of downtown. The consultants delivered those results in 2017, and key recommendations identified from that study are in progress as part of the city’s Parking Master Plan.

Former Fayetteville City Councilmember Justin Tennant, who served on the council during the previous study and currently serves on the Walton Arts Center Council board, said the new study is different than the 2017 study.

“While the city in the past has done a mobility study in this area of Fayetteville, this is the first comprehensive review of parking in the area,” he said. “It is a very unique situation we have in Fayetteville, with a number of businesses and events that currently draw visitors from around the region to our downtown, and with many others interested in investing and developing more in this area, we really do have one chance to get this right.

“We need data to understand where we currently are with parking utilization, and how that will change as possible development increases, and we believe this study will give us that very important and needed data.”

A crew works to construct a new parking deck at the northwest corner of Dickson Street and West Avenue on Wednesday, Sept. 14 in downtown Fayetteville. (Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer)

The study, expected to cost around $100,000 will be paid for by members of the independent coalition.

City parking manager Justin Clay and Experience Fayetteville CEO Molly Rawn were listed as members of the coalition in a press release, however, officials confirmed that no city or A&P funds will be used to pay for the new study.

Both Rawn and Fayetteville Chief of Staff Susan Norton said that they will welcome the new data that will be provided when the study is complete.

“Experience Fayetteville did not commission this study, however, as CEO we are very interested in the results,” Rawn said. “Dickson Street and downtown are very important to the economic development and vitality of our city, and we care very much about what happens there. I am listening and will be providing information, and we are here to participate in the discussion.”

Norton echoed that sentiment.

“We’re very interested in what they come up with, and we will be interested to see what the main differences will be in the outcome and recommendations” she said. “(The new study) will look at a different footprint than what we looked at in 2017, and that will provide a different lens.

“One thing I want people to understand, is we are looking to the future of the parking needs downtown, and we are implementing these pieces on how best to accommodate those needs,” Norton said.