Downtown opportunity should be explored

SO OFTEN IN LIFE opportunities present themselves when we are not always fully prepared to act on them.

The same can be true for governments as well.

One such unexpected opportunity has presented itself for the city of Plymouth in the form of a home for sale at 107 Smith St., adjacent to a public parking lot at the northeast corner of Smith and Mill streets.

Downtown parking, and downtown development in general, is always a concern for city officials, as the health and vitality of the downtown area is an important factor in maintaining a vibrant and growing community.

There is no doubt that the home at 107 Smith St. presents a real opportunity to aid downtown.

The most obvious possibility would be to expand the adjacent pocket parking lot. New businesses have opened or will be opening soon in the blocks of Mill Street west of Stafford Street, all of which create an additional demand and need for parking.

In addition to allowing the expansion of the adjacent parking lot, purchasing the house – as Plan Commission member Jim Flanagan pointed out earlier this month – would provide a chance to make the parking lot safer as well.

At present, the entrance to the lot is not much more than a car length north of the intersection of Smith and Mill streets. By every definition, that is not a safe location for an entrance/exit for a parking lot.

That entrance could be moved further north, a safe distance from that busy intersection, with the purchase of the home.

Alternatively, the house and property could be combined with the parking lot to create a developable parcel right on Mill Street – something that is in short supply and not easily created.

If the city wished, it could create such a lot and market it to bring more business into downtown.

Either way, the house at 107 Smith St. represents a unique opportunity.

However – and there’s always a however

– is the question of finding the money in the city budget to finance such a purchase and development.

As City Administrator Brian Yerges told the Plan Commission, the city has committed a sizable amount of money this year and next into the development of the riverfront area east of Stafford and south of Mill.

It has been a large investment, but well worth it, in an area that is sure to be a focal point and drawing attraction for downtown.

Spending to complete that project will take precedence over any other possible spending of limited city dollars on parking projects next year, Yerges stated.

All of that is very true. But it is also true that the city and its residents regret other opportunities lost in the recent past for lack of money or effort.

One need look no further than the closed railroad crossing on North Milwaukee Street, which has created a disjointed main thoroughfare through the city.

The city had the opportunity years ago to reconfigure the intersection of Milwaukee Street and Western Avenue that would have precluded any future crossing closing, but balked because of the potential cost. The result is that no one can get from north to south through the city on Milwaukee Street alone.

It would be a challenge for the city to finance the cost of purchasing 107 Smith St. and doing whatever is best with the property. But it’s a challenge city officials would be well to at least explore what might be possible and if it can be done.

To do otherwise would just add to a long list of opportunities never pursued and lost.

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