Covington prepares for potential parking challenges with new Mainstrasse development

COVINGTON, Ky. -- For Mainstrasse small business owner Joe Johnson, it's been a lot easier to get to work in 2017 than the year before.

"If I could park relatively close (to work), it was a rarity," he said. "I usually arrive to work 30 minutes early to make sure everything's ready, but I would have to arrive 45 minutes early to fight for a parking spot."

Johnson is one of multiple business owners who came out in opposition to a pay-to-park plan the city implemented in the entertainment district in 2016. They said the parking plan was discouraging would-be customers from visiting the neighborhood.

At Covington Mayor Joe Meyer's suggestion, the city commission overturned that plan, originally championed by then-mayor Sherrie Carran.

Now, stakeholders like Johnson are staring down the barrel of another potential parking nightmare. Upcoming construction on the River Haus development at the corner of Fifth and Main streets -- considered the gateway into Mainstrasse Village -- means the neighborhood is set to lose a chunk of its currently available parking. 

Namely, roughly half of the free parking lot located adjacent to the property will go away.

The good news? In the long term, River Haus will eventually include a covered parking facility with more than 300 parking spaces.

In the short term, the city has taken steps in order to mitigate the problem.

That's according to Covington's development director and city engineer, Mike Yeager. He said the city has partnered with a number of nearby businesses with larger parking lots in order to offer temporarily spots to replace those lost.

The city also plans to reconfigure some traffic patterns in the neighborhood in order to accommodate extra parking, Yeager said.

As early as next week, Seventh and Eighth streets will be made one-way, in order to allow for parking on both sides of the street, creating dozens of new parking spaces, Yeager said.

Parking alternatives to accommodate parking lost during 501 Main Street construction. (Provided)

"A lot of the plan hinges on the business owners and employees parking off-site to free up the spaces for customers," he said. "There's still plenty of available, safe parking. It might make it a little less convenient."

The city is also partnering with newly-opened Lisse to provide valet parking for visitors to the neighborhood. The city will subsidize $2 of the restaurant's $5 valet charge.

Johnson said his ledger is proof of the former parking plan's impact.

"I met with my accountant and they were asking me, 'You had a loss of business. What's happening?'" he said. "And I explained it to them.

"Most people drive here. They can choose to drive somewhere else and avoid the headache. They choose to come down here because it's nice, and screwing with the parking is going to ruin that," he said.

Michael Zinga, bar manager at Mainstrasse Village Pub, agrees.

"It wasn't immediate, but within two months, we started down-turning, the daytime happy hour business for us, and for the rest of the bars, as well," he told WCPO shortly after the pay-to-park plan was overturned.

Jesse Kleinhenz, who manages Mainstrasse's Gypsys and also lives in the neighborhood, said finding on-street parking isn't too bad for him during the day, but can become problematic during the evenings and weekends.

"I usually don't have too much trouble finding a spot at least on a side street during the day, but on nights and weekends it can get pretty crowded," he said.

Kleinhenz's situation is somewhat unique, in that he sees both the resident's concern as well as the business concern over neighborhood parking. While he can easily get to work on foot, he still relies on on-street parking on a daily basis.

Either way, some see Mainstrasse's parking woes as a good problem to have.

"This is the problem that an up and coming neighborhood has," said Tyler Stadtmiller, who works at Commonwealth Bistro, the newly-launched Kentucky-cuisine eatery on Main Street. He drives to work and has to find a parking place in Mainstrasse every day. 

"The only reason that we're complaining about parking is that we're having more people come down here. The cost of doing business is traffic aggravations. And these are good problems," he said.

Outdoor demolition at 501 Main Street is set to begin within the next few weeks, Yeager said, and indoor demolition is already underway. A sign posted at the Fifth Street entrance to the neighborhood parking lot indicated that the impacted spaces would close on Oct. 16.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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