By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Officials are hopeful that the addition of a 17-space, off-street parking area — and the elimination of most on-street parking — in the city’s downtown will spur economic development.
“The biggest concern I hear about downtown is, ‘I like going downtown to shop, but there’s nowhere to park,’” said Mayor Terry Stocker. “A lack of parking downtown is what has been the biggest problem for maintaining and running a business.”
The new parking area will be on the east side of State Street, above the existing Dona Vito’s Italian Grille parking lot. It will include handicapped-accessible spots, benches and decorative lighting. A crosswalk will be installed, too, to prevent downtown visitors from having to walk to the corner to cross the street.
Overall, the parking area will enhance the city’s downtown and make the streets a lot safer for traveling, Stocker said. About 10,000 cars drive along State Street every day — a number that continues to increase with the influx of new businesses.
Now, with cars parked along the street and blocking the right lane, traffic easily gets tied up, especially when trains pass through downtown. He added that these traffic jams also hinder the ability of emergency vehicles to quickly move through. Street parking also is a safety hazard for drivers, as they’re forced to contend with oncoming traffic while exiting and entering their cars.
No general-fund dollars will be used for the $150,000 project. Instead, it will be financed by approximately $70,000 from the Ohio Development Services Agency’s Community Development Block Grant program, as well as an additional $80,000 from the city’s Revolving Loan Fund.
“This was money we felt could be used to kick-start the downtown [revitalization],” Stocker said. “At the same time, there’s no cost to taxpayers and no impact to the general-fund budget.”
Tony Fire, 1st Ward councilman, said to the city’s being able to finance the off-road parking area without dipping into the general fund is “quite an accomplishment.”
He added that city administrators and city council have been working on the project for a while and that he’s excited to finally see it come to fruition.
“In order to attract business, they need to have a place to park,” Fire said. “It’s going to be a beautiful spot, and I’m glad it’s actually happening. It’s something downtown Struthers needs.”
Stocker indicated that the property will be surveyed “in the very near future,” with the bidding process starting early next year. He anticipates that construction will begin in the spring. The city will be responsible for maintenance of the parking area.
As the owner of Dona Vito’s Italian Grille on South Bridge Street, Alan Donatelli said he’s familiar with the parking problems in downtown Struthers. Many businesses simply have no available parking for customers.
The new parking area — which he’s greatly looking forward to — will “help the businesses out,” and “add a nice touch to downtown,” Donatelli said. He added that he’s encouraged by the host of recent improvements made to downtown, explaining that everyone, including himself, has pumped a lot of money into the area.
But it’s paying off, he said.
“Everybody tells me this is the best the downtown has ever looked,” Donatelli said. “I’ve been down here 10 years as a local businessman, and I hope to spend another 20 or 30 here. It’s nice to see positive money and positive people [coming into the downtown].”