City of Waco looking at ways to address downtown parking concerns

Posted at 2:15 PM, Jun 20, 2017
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:30:52-04

The City of Waco is looking at ways to alleviate parking concerns in the downtown area due to an increase in tourism.

Merchants at the River Square Center where Spice Village, Ninfa's and The Olive Branch are located, have expressed concerns about people parking there for hours.

Megan Henderson who is the Executive Director for City Center Waco and a staff support for the Public Improvement District said the Silos District trolley riders used to park at grassy lots near the riverfront that now have closed for redevelopment. Now, she said of them are parking at the River Square parking lot instead, leaving their cars there for several hours and going to the Silos, which she said it is affecting parking for locals.

"What has changed in the last several months is that it has made an already scarce situation and made it a lot more challenging," Henderson said.

Ninfa's General Manager Darlene Johnson said she is pleased with the tourism but the current parking situation is not allowing the restaurant to serve everyone.

"We are still blessed to be up in sales. However, we tend to see less of the locals here because they come and see there is no parking so they assume we are really busy," Johnson said.                                                                                                                                    

Leah Stewart who owns the Olive Branch said they have noticed visitors are parking at River Square and jumping on the trolley or going to other areas instead of having turnover.

She said it is great they are exploring Waco. However, she has noticed a decline in sales because her clientele who usually visit during the lunch hour are struggling to get in and out of the shopping center.

The Public Improvement District has made recommendations to the city to address these concerns, including having Waco Convention visitors park at Heritage Square. In addition, changing the River Square trolley stop to another location. Henderson said the city free parking garage on Franklin and 4th Street would be good option for it.

"I think what we need to do is to make a clear and comfortable trolley stop where we want people to park.We want people who get on and off River Square to patronize those businesses what we don't want is for people to see that as the place to enter the trolley," Henderson said.

She also said the PID recommended limiting the parking at that shopping center, which could mean making it for tenants and patrons only.

Henderson said the city followed one of their suggestions, removing the free parking advertisement for free parking at River Square from brochures and websites trolley seekers visit.

City of Waco Spokesman Larry Holze said the city is taking all recommendations very seriously and it is looking at ways to address the public parking issue.

"It's a great problem to have but it is a problem and we are going to try to do what we can to facilitate everybody because we want everybody 's business to be successful as we receive all these great guests from out of town, we want for them to have easy access to all the amenities we have," Holze said.

Henderson added the PID has talked to the city and Magnolia and both have expressed their concerns that local will be remembered and accounted for.

On Tuesday, News Channel 25 saw Magnolia Market added a free parking lot behind its property. 

Henderson said right now, they are looking at short-term and long-term plans to solve the downtown parking issue.

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