City eyes downtown parking issues

The city’s seven municipal lots (with a total of 312 parking stalls) on N. Bristol Street, Angell Street, City Hall, King Street, Lane Street-south, Lane Street-north, and Cannery Square.

Downtown Sun Prairie is bringing visitors to its shops and restaurants, holding its own with the attractions on the city’s west side, but recently there’s been grumbles that downtown parking is getting scarce on weekends.

Shannon Jambard, the owner of Meant-to-Bead, says that some customers have canceled workshops because they couldn’t find a place to park and other businesses report the lots nearest their businesses are full during peak time.

The parking crunch has been felt more recently with new breweries, restaurants, and an event space, driving more people downtown.

Parking issues were also brought up last month’s steering committee meeting that is guiding the redevelopment of the Main Street and Bristol Street explosion site.

Steve Tremlett, an urban designer with MSA Professional Services, Inc, and committee member, said parking is going to be a concern, with more people coming downtown on Fridays and Saturdays.

For her part, Jambard has been letting her customers know where they can park, even if it means walking a little farther. But she’s hoping for a better solution in the future with cooperation between business owners and the city.

“We’ve got to figure out another way, and figure it out calmly with everyone involved,” Jambard said.

City officials are evaluating the parking situation. Over the last couple of weeks, city staff has been monitoring municipal and on-street parking use, and expect to release a report later this year.

City of Sun Prairie Community Development Director Scott Kugler said data will drive the decision on what happens next.

The parking lot usage study was planned for this year even before the parking issues came up, Kugler said. In the city’s last parking study in 2017, it showed that the city’s seven municipal lots (with a total of 312 parking stalls) on N. Bristol Street, Angell Street, City Hall, King Street, Lane Street-south, Lane Street-north, and Cannery Square—were not at capacity, so no action was taken to expand municipal parking.

This time around, Kugler said, the study is going to include on-street parking usage and counts during times that events are being held at The Loft at 132.

Kugler said there’s a perception that parking is at capacity if people see lots full around a particular business at a particular time.

“There are a lot of new people coming downtown with all the new businesses, and they may not be familiar with the city’s other municipal parking lots,” Kugler said.

The city does plan to make a “modest” increase in parking spaces, Kugler said, with a new lot at 117 Columbus St. The city council recently OK’d the $270,000 purchase of the former auto sales property.

Kugler said construction of a parking lot is estimated, conservatively at $300,000. He said it’s too soon to tell how many spaces until a design comes up later this year. Construction is expected next year, but Kugler said no other city parking lot expansions are on the horizon.

“Purchasing properties and building parking is expensive and it takes time, this is not something that we can solve by next weekend,” Kugler said.

A parking ramp idea was discussed in 2001 on property north of the 200 Block of East Main Street but Kugler said no further discussions took place at part of a downtown revitalization plan.

Kugler estimated that a parking ramp would cost in the millions of dollars and municipalities choosing that route need to set up a paid parking system to pay for the infrastructure.

“Before we jump into that in a big way and start talking about buying properties and adding more parking, we need to look at other strategies and make sure that we are being responsible,” Kugler said. “We owe it to the taxpayers to fully investigate all options before we start building parking ramps.”

Better signage and letting people know where parking is downtown is part of the strategies the city can use. Also talking with businesses that have private parking spots open up after their employees leave for the day, is another way to find a solution to add parking.

Jambard says she’s put up parking information on her business website and Facebook page, to let know people where they can find a spot. Kugler suggests other businesses do the same.

But looking at the overall parking issue, Kugler said it’s a positive situation for downtown Sun Prairie.

“If you are going to have a parking problem, this is a better problem to have,” Kugler said. “It means people are coming downtown and visiting businesses. There are many downtowns that are having the opposite problem with plenty of parking and no one coming downtown.”

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