MOUNT VERNON – In an effort to make downtown Mount Vernon more accessible, The Ariel Foundation has partnered with several local entities to bring five new parking lots to the heart of the city.
The parking lots will line South Gay Street, beginning near Heritage Center Park and the Kokosing River viaduct and ending at East Vine Street. All five lots will be open to the public on nights and weekends, with three being public full-time. One of the lots will be utilized on weekdays by faculty, staff and students from Central Ohio Technical College, and another will be utilized by Mount Vernon Nazarene University, The Ariel Foundation Director Jen Odenweller told Knox Pages.
Shrock Premier Construction has already begun working on the project, and project coordinator Dan Houser said the goal is to finish it by the end of October. Once completed, the project will bring 169 new parking spots to downtown Mount Vernon.
“It seems like parking in downtown has been a hot topic for several years,” Odenweller said in an email. “Public-private partnerships will enable better use of space for different needs, maximizing resources.”
The Mount Vernon Development Company, a local non-profit, owns four of the five parking lot properties. COTC owns the fifth. The Ariel Foundation has agreed to fund the construction of the parking lots through a grant (Odenweller did not disclose the project’s total cost).
Below is a map of where each lot will be located:
Lot 1: On the southeast corner of East Vine Street and South Gay Street, across from the Mount Vernon News. This lot will be used by faculty, staff and students of Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s newly accredited engineering program, located just one block away on South Main Street, during weekdays. It will become available to the public on nights and weekends. 18 spots.
Lot 2: On the southwest corner of East Ohio Avenue and South Gay Street, where The Office bar used to stand (it was demolished last winter). This lot will be open to the public. 22 spots.
Lot 3: On the northeast corner of Howard Street and South Gay Street, across from the old Chamber of Commerce building. This lot, by far the biggest of the five, will be open to the public. 78 spots.
Lot 4: On the north side of the viaduct, near Heritage Center Park and the beginning of South Gay Street. This lot will be open to the public, and its construction will be part of a larger initiative – to make both downtown Mount Vernon and the Kokosing River more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.
According to Houser, there are plans to build a new asphalt bike trail that will connect the viaduct bridge to the South Gay Street sidewalk. This will establish “a more formal connection of the Kokosing Gap Trail as it welcomes bicyclists to downtown,” Odenweller said.
Concrete steps will also be installed so that pedestrians can walk safely down to the river from Heritage Center Park. The new parking lot will not only make downtown Mount Vernon more accessible by car, but it will also serve as the entryway to the city’s newest recreational experience. 26 spots.
Lot 5: On the northeast corner of East Ohio Avenue and South Gay Street, across from Local Smoke BBQ. This lot will be used by faculty, staff and students of Central Ohio Technical College, located just one block away on South Main Street, during weekdays. It will become available to the public on nights and weekends. 25 spots.
Odenweller said the hours for each lot have not yet been determined. She said developers are “working on those specifics now, as we want to order signage in the near future.”
Four of the five lots will look almost identical in style, Odenweller said. The Ariel Foundation extended a grant to COTC to assist with the cost of its parking lot’s revitalization, and she said the new lot will contain “elements that mirror many of the finishes and functionality of the other parking lots under construction.”
Houser characterized the lots as “top-of-the-line.” They will include a concrete surface, complemented by brick pavers near the entrances. A black, cast-iron fence will surround each parking lot, alongside seven-foot brick columns with lighting fixtures on top. Trees, bushes and shrubbery will surround the parking lots as well. There will be a bus stop at Lot 3, and bicycle racks will be built “to address needs associated with alternative transportation in our downtown,” Odenweller said.
Each lot will incorporate recommendations from the recent Mount Vernon Downtown Plan, Odenweller said, including “consistent and easily understandable signage.” Developers see this as a current need downtown, Odenweller said, as they believe improved signage will allow visitors to better utilize Mount Vernon’s downtown parking options.
“We know that the perception of inadequate parking is a reality to many. However, we also know that communication is often the challenge in understanding what parking is available when and for what purpose,” Odenweller said. “As a part of this development for multiple options for parking just one block off downtown Mount Vernon’s South Main corridor, easy to understand signage will come with this project.
“The community and its visitors need to know what is considered daytime public parking and what is open for evening and weekend public use. Ariel Foundation’s partnership through investment in development of these key properties will significantly assist with improvement of our community’s parking availability and understanding of use.”
Both Odenweller and Houser said the goal is to have all five parking lots finished by the time winter hits. Each parking lot will be put into use as soon as it is finished, Odenweller added.
“It’s a pretty fast-moving goal, and a lot of things are going to have to work right for that to happen,” Houser acknowledged. “But one of the main reasons for that big push is, we want to try to get these done before the cold weather comes in. I think it’s doable.”
Street closures for the project will be minimal, Houser said. In early October, construction crews will have to close the right lane of South Gay Street (heading north) for 1-2 days in order to work on Lot 2. Crews will need to access an existing stormwater line to work on that lot, Houser said, and the line is located under the road.
Houser said Shrock will look to complete Lot 5 first, so that COTC faculty, staff and students can begin using it as quickly as possible. That lot is just two weeks away from being finished, Houser said. Lot 1, for MVNU, will take precedent next, followed by Lot 4 (by the river) and the rest.
Houser noted that developers are currently working through zoning issues with the city on a couple of the lots, and Odenweller said they have “uncovered some surprises that have needed to be addressed in order to construct stable parking with adequate filtration, appropriate lighting, incorporation of trees and the addition of other green elements in an effort to make these pleasing and inviting spaces for our community and those who visit.
“Surprises like cisterns and footers left from previous buildings certainly add to the cost,” she continued, “but are things that need to be properly addressed as a part of construction.”
When the project is completed, however, the five new lots will add a significant amount of parking to Mount Vernon’s blossoming downtown scene. The Mount Vernon Parking Company already owns four downtown lots, holding a total of 144 parking spaces, and street parking also exists throughout the city.
“It’s going to be a huge benefit for the downtown area, because I know that’s been a point of emphasis for the past few years, is just kind of bringing that downtown to life,” said Houser, who lives in Mount Vernon. “To bring people to the downtown area, you need parking spots, so that’s something that can be difficult for some of the bigger events they try to do in the downtown area. This is going to provide just a huge benefit for that.”
For those who commute to downtown Mount Vernon, Odenweller said accessibility and walkability have become a top priority. This project will improve the downtown district in both aspects.
“They need to have easy access to parking, and having it be a friendly space depicts the tone of the developing vibrancy in the area,” she said.