Downtown business owners frustrated by lack of parking since construction of Alfond Commons

by James Burnett

Many business owners in downtown Waterville are frustrated by the amount of parking spots that Colby students are using, especially in The Concourse. Some of these businesses believe the new Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons has hurt their net profit due to the lower availability of parking.

Joyce Vlodek Atkins, the owner of Yardgoods Center in the West Concourse, explained to the Echo that her customers often struggle to find parking now that the downtown dorm is open for business. She described how her customers often come to knitting classes carrying lots of supplies, which can make it very difficult for them to have to walk from a distant parking space to the store. Atkins also described seeing Colby students park in a disabled parking spot, despite not having a disability placard or plate.

Knitting teacher at Yardgoods Center and Colby alumni Bette Sturtevant ’81 said that the lack of parking does negatively affect the business. Sturtevant explained that the College’s students have plenty of places to park where they will not hurt the community, such as the Appleton lot, Head of Falls, or on campus. Although it is legal for college students to park in the Concourse, she wondered aloud if it was ethical. She would “like students to take responsibility for the stress they’re creating.”

Joe Marcoux, the owner of The Villager restaurant, echoed many of those sentiments. Even though the town cannot deny public parking specifically to students of the College, Marcoux said that students should not park in the Concourse because it is not fair for businesses, customers, older people, and those with mobility impairments. He suggested that students park in the Head of Falls lot.

Despite his frustration with the parking situation, Marcoux still believes that it’s great that the College is pumping money into Waterville. Marcoux praised College President David Greene and said he’s “very focused” and “a man with a vision.”

At 8 a.m. on March 12, the West Concourse parking lot was already almost at full capacity.

Another business owner in the West Concourse, who asked to remain anonymous, described the parking lot as “choked.” He said that his customers will “take a look at the parking lot and choose to leave” since they cannot find a spot. He described seeing multiple students of the College parking in the disabled parking spot, and has even called the police before on one student for that reason. When the business owner went to complain to Town Hall, he said that “nobody cares” because the parking in the concourse is public.

Even businesses that are not located in the Concourse have felt the impact of the new dorm. Adrian Sulea, the owner of Universal Bread on Temple Street, believes that his bottom line has decreased since the construction of the Commons. Although residents of the dorm do purchase his bread, he believes that other customers are less likely to stop by since there is the perception that no one can park with ease and convenience downtown anymore.

The frustration that downtown business owners feel regarding the parking situation calls into question the College’s commitment to supporting community and commerce. In a press release from August 27, the College claimed to prioritize the voices and concerns of local businesspeople in order to catalyze economic activity.

However, not everyone agrees that the College is being receptive to their concerns. Sulea explained that no one was asking him and other local businesspeople what they want during this downtown revitalization project. He argued that the College promised local business owners something and the College needs to “keep their word. It’s a question of principle,” he said.

Unless the College finds a solution, the problem may keep getting worse. Atkins pondered aloud “what’s going to happen to the parking situation when Colby opens up their hotel?”

Fortunately, many of the local business people who spoke to the Echo have some ideas. Atkins would like the parking spaces in the West Concourse to be customer only. Sulea believes that the College should raise awareness among the student body about the ways in which their parking behavior affects local businesses. However, until the College finds a way to solve this problem, downtown business people will remain frustrated by the lack of available parking.