Every visitor, resident and employee who drives to downtown Franklin on any given day has at least one thing in common: They must find one of the city’s more than 1,800 parking spots in order to enjoy Franklin’s shops, office space, restaurants and other amenities.
City officials said having crowded parking lots is a good problem for Franklin to have because it is a result of exploding growth and thriving business.
“We continue to be a vibrant downtown—this is a healthy-city problem, no doubt,” City Manager Eric Stuckey said.
However, employers have differing opinions on curbside parking regulations, while some tourists complain about the options available. Parking and land-use experts said different types of pricing may be necessary.
Former Brentwood Mayor Jill Burgin, who serves as the executive director of the Main Street Program of the Downtown Franklin Association, agreed with Stuckey but added there can be a downside to the city’s success.
“You want it to be a successful, popular area, but you don’t want your popularity to work against you in terms of crowds, congestion, things like that,” she said.
Two future projects to increase the city’s capacity for parking are on the city’s list of capital needs, though the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen has decided against prioritizing them over some other needs at this point, Stuckey said.
Projects in the city’s future include a surface lot along Fifth Avenue, just south of the French’s Shoes & Boots store, as well as another parking garage, he said.
“Both of those projects got a decent amount of support from the board and the initial prioritization that we did,” Stuckey said. “The idea of investing in some additional public parking is definitely something that is on the board’s mind.”
Downtown Franklin saw a record 1.72 million visitors in 2018, according to the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as Visit Franklin. President and CEO Ellie Westman Chin said that figure is rising annually; in 2015, the city saw 1.31 million visitors, adding up to an increase of more than 31% from 2015-2018.
Tourism season is almost year-round now, Westman Chin said. Other than the months of January and February, when factors such as cold weather and a lack of holidays lead to a decline in visitors, Franklin is a popular destination, she said.
Westman Chin said her staff at the Visit Franklin center does not often hear that parking is a frequent complaint.
“Once in a while we’ll get somebody in our visitor’s center mentioning something, but otherwise it’s not something we hear consistently,” she said. “What we do hear from them is, ‘I can’t believe you have free parking, because it’s hardly anywhere we go that has free parking.’”
Burgin said she has heard complaints.
“I’ve been behind people going into restaurants talking to the servers, complaining about how they couldn’t find parking when they got here, the traffic, things like that,” she said.
Stuckey said it may be a problem of convenience, rather than people actually not finding places to leave their cars while they head into restaurants, retail establishments or the office.
“The question is, typically, ‘Did you not find a place, or did you not find a convenient place?’,” he said. “And your perception of convenience in downtown Franklin is different than [what]your perception of convenience might be in downtown Nashville.”
Stuckey said the city sees a lot of activity in terms of visitors, retail and restaurant traffic, but there is also a growing employment base in downtown, such as Gore & Reynolds, a law firm on First Avenue that opened its office in October.
He said the increasing numbers of employers in the downtown area change the type of parking options that are needed.
“We have more and more businesses locating in downtown, so you’ve got more during-the-day employee demand, which is a longer-term parking need,” Stuckey said. “We’re looking at ways to try to align that and make that work.”
In July 2018, the city changed the rules for street parking, reducing the amount of time allowed from four hours to two hours. “A four-hour time limit was really longer than what your typical visit might be, “Stuckey said. “That could turn into where employees park, and that’s really not the best use of those spaces.”
According to a survey of the Downtown Franklin Association, the business group had mixed feelings, Burgin said.
“Store and restaurants owners like it because they want turnover—they like a shorter time frame,” she said. “For salon owners, sometimes salon appointments don’t take two hours, and they don’t want their customers to worry when they’re in the chair to go out and move their car.”
The survey also reflected employers’ concerns that Franklin could be perceived as a less friendly place due to increased parking regulations, she said.
“They felt like it wasn’t as welcoming —downtown Franklin is a destination, but it’s also a place people like to spend time, that’s important in a downtown area,” Burgin said. “They felt like it wasn’t as welcoming, maybe, to encourage people to stay.”
Peter Westerholm, an expert on parking and land use who is the director of policy and government affairs with the Greater Nashville Regional Council, which studies traffic issues in the surrounding Nashville area, said demand-based and progressive pricing may be the best way to keep Franklin’s streets and garages in check.
Demand-based parking means that prices would fluctuate depending on the number of open spots, he said.
“You want to charge the parker—the person parking—the lowest rate possible to ensure that you have about 80% utilization of that block’s parking capacity,” he said.
That means that one or two spots should be available on any given block at any given time, he said.
Progressive pricing means prices go up per hour for the user. For example, a person paying to park for four hours would pay a higher hourly rate than a person who only needs one hour, he said.
“You want to charge the rate that is going to give people just enough of an edge to get them to not linger too long,” he said, noting the difference between people who head into the city to run an errand versus those who work downtown and park for several hours.
Westerholm, who also served on the Metropolitan Council of Nashville, warned about “induced demand,” in which building more parking spaces actually encourages more people to park in the city, washing out the results of having more inventory of parking places.
“People always think more is the solution when maybe there’s just a better way to configure what you’ve got to get a solution,” Burgin said.