City turns focus to parking in downtown Georgetown

The Red Poppy Lot is an appealing choice for many because of its proximity to Georgetown's Town Square and nearby county offices. Eddie Harbour/Community Impact Newspapers
The Red Poppy Lot is an appealing choice for many because of its proximity to Georgetown's Town Square and nearby county offices. Eddie Harbour/Community Impact Newspapers

The Red Poppy Lot is an appealing choice for many because of its proximity to Georgetown's Town Square and nearby county offices. Eddie Harbour/Community Impact Newspapers

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The Daisy Lot in Georgetown is one of a handful of free, city-owned parking lots near the downtown area in Georgetown. Eddie Harbour/Community Impact Newspapers
With its centerpiece courthouse and Victorian storefronts, downtown Georgetown holds claim to the title of “The Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas.”

As businesses continue to open and develop in and around the downtown area, though, the city of Georgetown has again turned its attention to adding parking to accommodate the growth.

From special events to tax season—the Williamson County Tax Office, according to a study, can bring in 1,000 residents a day during its peak times—to even lunch hour on a Thursday, parking in and around the Square has been an issue for many.

“Midday during the week is difficult,” said Brad Strittmatter, co-owner of two downtown spots, Mesquite Creek Outfitters and the Golden Rule. “But then the weekends are getting more difficult as the Square becomes more popular as a destination. “There’s just not enough parking. So what we end up seeing is a lot of people just turn around and go home because they can’t find parking.”

Following a pair of presentations by assistant city manager Laurie Brewer in July and August, Georgetown City Council is again preparing to move forward with site selection for a city-funded parking garage. At the top of that list are four city-owned sites and a privately-held one that is currently on the market at Tamiro Plaza.

“We need to choose locations ... and then (begin) engaging people in an on-site event,” council member Amanda Parr said at a council workshop in August. “(It will) give people the ability to feel it, and see it and look it and give other forms of input at that point.”

The city’s 2014 Downtown Master Plan Update and the Georgetown City Center Plan, both identified a parking structure as critical to the long-term health of the Square. From there, the city hired Michigan-based Carl Walker, Inc. (now part of WGI) to conduct a Downtown Parking Study in 2015.

That study contained several suggestions aimed at updating existing city-owned lots to make them more appealing to visitors. This included altering the layout to the Daisy (4th and Austin) and Red Poppy (9th and Main) lots to eliminate “dead-end aisles,” making it easier to navigate the spaces available. Overall, though, the phrase that continually appeared was “parking garage.” It shows up 70 times in the public comments collected for the study.

This year, the council again identified downtown parking at its February Visioning Session as part of its Areas of Emphasis and Strategic Initiatives. But instead of paying for a new parking study, the council opted to keep the 2015 effort as its reference point and move ahead with identifying a site for a potential garage.

“We understood that we needed to get a parking garage done,” council member Steve Fought said at a meeting in July. “We didn’t need to spend money on another parking study; we understood the problem.”

Two years ago, the council looked poised to move ahead with a garage at the current Bluebonnet Parking Lot at 6th and Main, going so far as garnering a pair of designs that would include a traditional brick facade. Residents closest to the lot, however, wanted more time for study and, potentially, a different design. A majority of the council at the time agreed and put the plan on hold in Feb. 2020.

Now, 18 months later, the Bluebonnet Lot remains one of the sites on the table for discussion. In addition, the Red Poppy and Daisy lots are also in consideration, as well as the lot south of the Georgetown Library. The goal, regardless of location, is to add at least 150 parking spaces with $5 million earmarked in 2020 from the capital improvements budget for a garage according to the city’s website.

A fifth site, the privately-held Tamiro Plaza at 6th and Austin, is also under consideration. At a meeting in August, the council instructed Brewer to explore options for that property as it is currently on the market. Brewer added her team was “happy to include” privately-owned sites.

“We ought to open our minds and thoughts to, if somebody walks in the door with another site, we (should) entertain it,” Fought added in July.

According to the city, downtown Georgetown added eight new businesses in 2019 and had 11 more in development in 2020. In any other part of town, an increase of that size in new business openings would have necessitated approximately 700 new parking spots, according to the city’s planning department. And while it has worked to expand the Sunflower Lot at Eighth and MLK, it is not a candidate to add a garage as it is on land owned by Williamson County that the city has a 20-year lease for. That agreement was completed in late 2018 and the city has made significant improvements on the lot since then.

Other sites previously studied include the 6th and Rock lot, which is also county-owned, but Brewer explained the county was also not interested in partnering or allowing the city to acquire it. The Bank of America lot at 6th and Main was also considered at varying points but has since garnered development interest and is currently not available.

“We need to make clear ... this is a lot that everyone sees, but it is not a lot we can develop,” Parr said in August.

But even if the city came to a decision on the site by the end of the year, it would be another two years—according to the city’s own estimates—before a garage would be operational.

“I don’t know what that stopgap can be,” said Strittmatter who has had Mesquite Creek Outfitters downtown for over five years. “People have talked about shuttle busses and trams, but would people use them? We just need to grin and bear it and move forward.”

Currently, parking to the east of the courthouse is limited to 3-hour parking on the street (there are 213 angled spots adjacent to the Square), the 47 spaces at the Bluebonnet Lot—which includes 18 spots adjacent to the Galaxy Bakery—and the 136 at the Red Poppy Lot, next to the well-trafficked tax office.

“(It’s) very important to supply more parking options on the northeast side of the Square,” council member Tommy Gonzalez said in an email to Community Impact. “This could help balance parking options.”

None of the city-run lots currently charge for parking, nor do the time-limited spaces on the street. According to their website, the city does not plan to charge for parking in the garage, but could limit access, or decide to charge, during special events like the Red Poppy Festival.

With all of that in mind, Brewer hopes to have more information to present to the council on site selection by October or November. Many on the council also considered this parking garage the first of several new options to develop and build for the health of the downtown area going forward.

“When we do have those sites selected ... that is a good time to update people (that) this is our first site and where we go from here,” Parr added in August. “(This way) people are really clear that this is one parking garage and we will move forward with other things from there.”
By Eddie Harbour

Editor, Cedar Park/Georgetown/Leander

Eddie joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2021 and has been a reporter and editor over the past two decades including lengthy stays at the Antelope Valley Press (Palmdale, Calif.) and Santa Barbara News-Press. He relocated to the Austin area in 2014 from his native California.


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