Parking woes affect businesses
David Rosen stands out in front of Plum, the store he and his wife Cari own, on East German Street. It is just before 1 p.m. on Tuesday, and German Street is lined with cars. Students walk up and down the streets, backpacks on, but the Rosens’ store is empty.
It is reasons such as this that Rosen decided to start a Facebook group – “Shepherd University/Shepherdstown Needs a Parking Garage” – and put pressure on the governor’s office about parking in and around Shepherdstown.
“I’ve heard from multiple other business owners that this is a tough time for us,” Rosen said. “Being part of the (Shepherdstown Business Association), this is a huge issue.”
“For 21 years, I’ve felt the SBA needs to be a cohesive group, to work with the town and the university to solve this problem,” said Meredith Wait, president of the SBA.
She said two governors, four college presidents and countless local officials later, nothing has changed.
“And we’re in the same position we were in 21 years ago with a larger university. So it’s time. It’s time to find funding.”
Rosen, who lives along Duke Street with his family, also witnesses and hears about it on the residential side of things.
He said any resident or business owner who has experienced an academic year in town knows that the issue of parking is nothing new.
Shepherd President Suzanne Shipley said though a parking garage on campus has been in the works for years, it has been difficult to obtain funding.
Recently Shepherd announced the construction of a Route 480 underpass, with a price tag of approximately $3.5 million. According to Shipley, the cost for a 500-space parking garage, which would replace Sara Cree Hall, would cost approximately $10 million.
But, because the facility is considered an auxiliary building – one which covers its costs through revenue – state bonds cannot be appropriated for the project.
So Shipley and area officials are hoping to find other ways to fund the facility.
“If someone will give us operational funding or a majority of the cash, we could build it,” Shipley said.
Delegate John Doyle (D-57th District) believes there could be a few options to locate funds for the garage.
“It may require a change in the statute to allow certain types of statutes to allow for bond money,” he said.
Or, Doyle said, another possibility is to come up with cash appropriations.
But, Shipley and Doyle agree if there is a way the state could “beef up” Shepherd’s operational funding, that could be the key.
Right now the state funds 20 percent of Shepherd’s operational budget. Shipley said even if Shepherd had to foot the bill itself, this increase in funding could help.
“And if we could get $1 million increase in operation or half a million dollars increase in operation, that could fund the debt we would have to incur by building the garage,” she said.
But because the university has built up its facilities over the years, Shipley said the adding $10 million-plus to its debt is risky.
State Sen. Herb Snyder (D-Jefferson) said moving money around in the legislature might be difficult, but it will take the entire delegation, the governor and Shipley to make it happen.
“It’s doable, but it’s going to take some work,” he said. “Times are extremely tight here. I’m optimistic we can get it done.”
Snyder also said that if he and other local officials can convince the governor that then-Gov. Joe Manchin promised in 2009 that 2 percent of table gaming money will go towards administrative fees for the first two years it is in effect, he believes that could solve some funding problems.
But, even if area and university officials are able to acquire the backing for the parking garage, Doyle and Shipley agree it might not resolve the problem.
Shipley said because Shepherd has a smaller campus, students have an expectation of convenience when it comes to parking.
“It’s going to help, but it’s still not going to be a solution,” she said.
“My goal is to organize this as a whole to let the governor know that this is an issue for us, and our community will thrive if we get it,” Rosen said.
Rosen said he has been in talks with Doyle and Snyder, who plan on meeting with whoever wins the gubernatorial race shortly after Oct. 4.
“I think by making enough noise, this will rise on the list of budget requests,” he said.
Rosen said while it is difficult to identify governmental funding right now, he believes looking at this at the economic level would help. Opening up parking downtown would allow for German Street businesses to prosper and allow for creation of jobs.
“I look at this in the downtown business community as keeping our doors open,” he said.
Calls were made to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office; however, questions were not answered by press time.