Bellefonte businesses complain about parking, borough looks at solutions

Bellefonte Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said it’s possible the town will see a two- to three-floor parking garage project near the Waffle Shop on Bishop Street in the next five years.

Stewart said he is aware of the many complaints from residents and business owners about a lack of parking spaces, but the borough is not ready to embark on anything immediately.

The problem is that some parking garages lose money, and he said the borough would need to partner with other entities and secure outside money to make the numbers work. He doesn’t mind breaking even but doesn’t want to be in the red.

“We would need to partner with another entity to make it work and make it affordable,” Stewart said.

The parking garage, which could include retail on the first floor and would have to fit with the Victorian architecture, could be the next big project for the borough after the waterfront revitalization, but it is contingent on finding funding.

But some business owners want more parking as soon as possible.

Pure Imagination co-owner Marc Tressler said the lack of downtown parking is one of the reasons why he moved the business from High Street to the corner of Bishop and Allegheny Streets where he has a small, dedicated parking lot. Even there, he still hears complaints.

“Parking is the main complaint we hear from customers,” he said.

He added that with all the mixed-use buildings in the downtown area, people who live in the apartments above the shops park outside and further gum up the works.

A parking garage could be a realistic solution to the problem and help to develop more interest in downtown businesses, he said.

“I believe most definitely a parking garage will help dramatically in getting more businesses downtown and more people downtown,” Tressler said.

Stewart said part of the problem is perception. People don’t want to park a couple blocks away and have to walk to businesses, but he said sometimes parking outside a mall and walking to the store could be just as far.

But Children’z Clothing Plus owner Vickey Emel said people have told her they drove around the block multiple times looking for a space, and ended up deciding not to go into her store.

It’s especially tough, she said, on days where there is major activity at the courthouse.

“When it’s court day, forget about it,” she said. “There’s no parking.”

Though parking garages are a fixture in State College, Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said it’s a bit different than the situation in Bellefonte.

Because State College has three parking garages, Fountaine said the debt is wrapped in all of them, providing a more affordable solution. He said in any given year one or two garages might lose money, but they have others to pick up the slack.

Ultimately, he said, it’s paramount to constantly get cars in the garage because the structures are very expensive to build.

Stewart said the borough is committed to downtown revitalization and attracting businesses. He is optimistic it will be able to put something together to improve the parking situation.