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Downtown parking a concern

October 20, 2011

Regulations cause problems for business owners, patrons

Downtown Ruston parking is limited to two hours during the day, disrupting some patrons’ shopping and eating. Business owners have also complained about being ticketed in front of the spaces for which they pay. – Photo by Kyle Kight

PATRICK BOYD
Staff Reporter

 

Neil Keen walked out of his newest downtown business, Black Box, Monday afternoon to find a parking ticket on his windshield.

 

Receiving parking tickets is something that Keen has grown accustomed to over the past few weeks ever since he opened Black Box coffee shop.

 

Keen and other business owners downtown are being ticketed daily by the Ruston Police Department for parking in front of their own businesses, since there is a two-hour parking limit in downtown Ruston.

 

This also applies to customers who come to the downtown area to shop, eat or study at any of the shops or restaurants and stay longer than two hours.

 

“It harms my business because if a student wants to do homework and hangout with friends for over two hours, then they will be ticketed for doing so,” Keen said. “I know that I am going to pay a fine every time I park here, but a student shouldn’t have to. It doesn’t promote student business. It is ridiculous.”

 

Parking fines in downtown Ruston are $5 for every ticket received.

 

On the ticket envelope that the Ruston Police Department places on vehicles, it says the citation increases to $10 if not paid within 48 hours.

 

The restrictions are noted on signs placed throughout the downtown area and are enforced Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

 

“My workers have to park two blocks away and walk to work,” Keen said. “Many students have gotten tickets for parking outside Black Box as well.”

 

At other coffee shops in Ruston, such as Crescent City and Starbucks, both located near the interstate, there is no timed parking.

 

“To me there is not a parking problem in downtown Ruston,” Keen said. “Ruston thinks that if you cannot park right by the door then there is a problem. What is walking two or three blocks over to a shop, whenever in a big city you would have to walk 10 or 20 blocks?”

 

Two weeks ago, Keen posted a Facebook status on the Black Box’s wall that showed his distress with the situation.

 

Many students and people in the Ruston community also voiced frustration with the situation.

 

“It’s never made sense to me that a small town would have the kind of limitations that you’d expect to find in a big city, where parking is at a premium,” said John Martin, an assistant professor of English at Tech. “The two-hour limits and frequent ticketing strikes me as more of a revenue-raising policy than any real necessity for shoppers or business patrons.”

 

Martin said he thinks there is a disconnect between the parking restrictions and the reality of downtown businesses due to their proximity to the campus.

 

“They should cater to the university community,” he said. “The city should be encouraging that kind of extended stay in town, rather than discouraging it with tickets.”

 

Other business owners in downtown Ruston are also frustrated with the parking regulations.

 

“Many times it hasn’t even been two hours, and I have already gotten a ticket,” said Justin Stoppleworth, owner of Turbo Goat. “My idea is that owners should at least have a spot to park by their business since we are paying for these spaces.”

 

Ever since Stoppleworth bought Turbo Goat bike shop two months ago, he has racked up around $30 in parking tickets a week just by parking in front of his business.

 

“The city of Ruston as a community disregards Tech students as people they need to cater to,” he said. “It is the younger people that support the city during the nine months they are here for school.”

 

Stoppleworth said that many of his clients would rather bike to his shop than drive.

 

“I ride my bike whenever I go anywhere in downtown,” said Taylor Cappey, a freshman mechanical engineering major. “I know a lot of people who have gotten a lot of tickets–sometimes several in one day, when they come to Turbo Goat.”

 

Jill Menzina, a frequent customer of The Fashion located on Park Avenue, said she thinks there is a problem with the parking restrictions that make it hard to shop in downtown.

 

“My friend and I came here [The Fashion] to go shopping, and after we tried clothes on for a while, we decided to go get something to eat at Counter Culture,” Menzina said. “When we got back to the car, we had a ticket. It is just not enough time if you want to go to different shops and eat.”

 

Right next door to The Fashion, Amy Neal, co-owner of Hair Studio, has many customers who come from out of town to get their hair done at her shop.

 

“Whenever our customers get their hair done and also get it highlighted, it can take over two hours,” Neal said. “It takes away from trying to shop before or after they get their hair done because they know they will get a ticket unless they move their car.”

 

Neal said that one of her customers who came in from Natchitoches was planning on shopping after she got her hair done, but then saw she had a ticket and left Ruston.

 

“A lot of people think it is me, but I did not make the regulations up,” said Felicia Brown, RPD parking control officer. “It is a city ordinace that was passed before I even started this job.”

 

Brown started working for the RPD in 1994 and writes the tickets for parking violations.

 

“Regardless if you are an employer or employee, you have to move your car,” she said. “They would rather park in front of their business.”

 

Brown said there are several free parking areas in downtown for people to park.

 

“We are looking at the downtown parking problem,” said Kristy Lumpkin, economic development administrator for the city of Ruston. “There isn’t a perfect answer.”

 

Lumpkin, who has been in Ruston for the past year and a half, said this is not a stagnant conversation among business owners in downtown Ruston.

 

“We have quarterly meetings with the business owners where we discuss these matters,” she said. “I work with the businesses, and I am involved with them, helping when it comes to things like this or upcoming events. We want these businesses to be here.”

 

Lumpkin said that through the Ruston 21 plan, they are working with the Tech expansion plans to make downtown more accessible for students.

 

“We are trying to create a more walk-able area for the Tech students from the campus to downtown Ruston,” she said. “We want them to enjoy their experience here.”

 

In Chapter 8 of the Ruston 21 development comprehensive plans, there are pictures of Mississippi Avenue currently and then the planned pictures after it will be finished.

 

Mississippi Avenue will be transformed with more businesses and decorated with trees.

 

On the summary of the findings for Transportation Implementation, the timeline says this area will be targeted to start this year and be an ongoing process.

“If I was a student, I would set my watch for two hours before going into a shop or to study,” Lumpkin said. “Then after the time is up, they could go move their car and then come back in.”

 

Email comments to gpb009@latech.edu.

 

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