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FRONTLINE: Considering a Parking Garage for Wayne

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Lost in Space
Wayne sure could use a parking garage—but will it ever get one?

Two decades ago, it was easy to find space for your car in Wayne. And it was usually directly in front of the store where you wanted to shop—the farmer’s market (now the Gap), the post office, the old library on Lancaster Avenue, Rexall Drugs. But then along came lots of new housing, the Blue Route, a North Wayne Avenue restaurant boom and an expanded movie theater.

JoAnn Buono, a young mother of three who frequents Wayne, recalls the night when a sudden rainstorm soaked her as she dashed to her car after a movie at the Clearview Anthony Wayne Cinema on Lancaster Avenue. She was parked near the train station—too far, she said, though it’s probably a sprint of less than two blocks.

“Parking is, has been, and will continue to be, a growing problem in Wayne,” says Ann Cusumano, a realtor with Prudential, Fox & Roach for 17 years. “A multi-level parking garage like the one in West Chester would benefit the township, businesses and the people of Radnor.” Cusumano’s comments are hardly a revelation. “This is old news,” says Al Willis, co-owner of the downtown bookstore Readers’ Forum. “We’ve had a problem for years.”

In some cases, Willis blames the businesses, many whose employees park directly in front of their workplaces. But the way he sees it, the real problem is the nearby restaurants and movie theater, whose patrons take up multiple parking spaces for long stretches of time—especially on weekends. “Saturday night is awful,” he says.

The Tiger Shop’s David Abraham concurs. The proprietor of the North Wayne Avenue menswear business points to the increasing number of restaurants, which “has driven rents up,” forced some shops out of business and, in turn, prompted the need to replace them with stores that make more money. He believes there should be a limit on the number of restaurants downtown.

But Abraham’s main gripe is with local government. He believes Radnor Township hasn’t done enough to expand parking options in Wayne. To its credit, the township has eliminated the eight-hour meters and upped the cost of the others from 10 cents to 25 cents. But apparently the parking lots that are available now—those on the far side of the post office and on the AT&T site—simply aren’t convenient enough. “When you install a light switch, you put it near the light source,” says Abraham.

Stack ’em High?
It would seem the situation calls for a parking structure of some sort—say, a three-story concrete garage. Abraham even has a location in mind: the open lot on North Wayne Avenue directly across from his shop.

Warren Kuo, co-owner of Margaret Kuo’s, a culinary fixture in downtown Wayne for four years, says the situation is not as bad as many would have you believe. “Perception is as important as reality,” he says. “I don’t feel Wayne’s parking situation is dire right now. However, to deal with the perception of lack of parking, we should have a well-designed garage with architectural features integrated into Wayne’s image.”

Not everyone agrees—including those whose opinions matter most. Members of the Wayne Business District’s Master Plan Implementation Committee don’t think a parking garage is the answer. They encourage behind-store parking and businesses built closer to the street—like, for example, the new Land Rover dealership in lower Wayne.

Among the most outspoken committee members are Mac McCoy and Steve Paolantonio, both big Wayne boosters and civic volunteers. Along with their committee of professional planners, they believe Wayne’s great shopping and restaurants make it a popular destination worth the minor inconvenience of parking and walking. Shoppers are willing to hoof it to reach King of Prussia Mall from a distant lot, so why should it be any different in Wayne?

“The more walkable a place is, the better,” Paolantonio says. “It’s traffic-calming, and we want to slow cars speeding on Lancaster Avenue.”

McCoy concedes that “it’s difficult to park in front of a particular store now. [But] people need to make a list like they do when they go to the mall.”

That way, he says, all businesses benefit from shoppers strolling through town. “We’re not looking for national chains or more restaurants, which both require large amounts of parking spaces,” he says.

And certainly not in the middle of Wayne itself, which McCoy and others see as a perfect model for other small towns. Then there’s the cost of constructing a parking garage. “Who’s going to pay for it? Taxpayers, the township, the users, the merchants?” McCoy poses.

Paolantonio puts the cost to build each space in a new garage at approximately $20,000. “If you create 500 spaces, that’s $10 million,” he says, adding that the cost to maintain each space is about $150 a month, including staffing.

And that doesn’t include the cost of the land on which the garage would be built or its design. “[And] I don’t think anyone wants a traditional parking garage like at Philadelphia airport,” McCoy says.

While planners seem to be saying no to conventional covered parking, a new kind of garage may well be in Wayne’s future. WBD’s Master Plan Implementation Committee has identified three special use districts they hope will be approved by the township before the end of 2006. The group sees these locations as appropriate for a garage—though not just any three- or four-story concrete behemoth. By manipulating zoning restrictions in these districts (like building height), the facility could have retail space and apartments or condos in addition to parking. “Mixed use is a better idea,” McCoy says.

The three sites they have in mind are the existing lot on the south side of the post office, AT&T’s parking lot, and the one on North Wayne Avenue behind Wayne Presbyterian and abutting the train station. But wherever the structure might go, “we can’t have a freestanding garage unless there are other benefits,” says Paolantonio.

And condos or apartments would positively impact residential density. “That means more shoppers in Wayne, and more taxes for the township,” he says. “Though with 30,000 township residents, not everyone’s going to agree.”

But if you build it, will they come? Or are they here already, circling Wayne for a 25-cents-per-hour parking spot and eager to return tomorrow?

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