I have been closely watching the new changes made by the city of Bristol, Tennessee to our downtown area. Based on the disastrous Sixth Street project and the new parking regulations, it appears that the city is determined to slow the growth we have seen over the past decade. It seems they are working to make it harder to live and work downtown.

I find several aspects of this new approach disturbing. The first is that the city council is no longer actively involved in the downtown plans and apparently don’t actually vote to approve the city’s staff plans. I was also surprised when I attended a meeting at City Hall to explain the new parking permits for resident and it became clear that the city staff never bothered to do their homework before the rollout of the permits. Staff was unable to answer basic questions such as how many people live downtown and how many people work downtown. Surely that information would be necessary in order to make an effective plan for these individuals.

The citizens in the meeting I attended generally supported the idea of a parking permit for the downtown residents, but felt the $360 fee was much too high when the permit doesn’t guarantee a parking space, just the right to stay longer if you find one. Attendees at that meeting felt that $50 to $75 would be the more appropriate cost. The city has since announced compromise fee of $300. That’s little compromise.

My wife and I own the building on the corner of Sixth and Shelby that houses a comic book store and a graphic design firm. Neither I nor the owners of the business in our building were contacted by the city for input or suggestions on the decision to remove parking places on Sixth Street and to limit parking time citywide. I’ve heard the same from others on this street: owners and residents were provided no opportunity to weigh in on this decision.

For 15 years I was part of the city council and staff who worked hard to bring our downtown back to life with input and assistance from Bristol’s citizens. I’m proud of what we accomplished and I’d like to see the rebirth of Bristol’s downtown continue. I fear that our progress is now threatened by the new attitude of council and staff. At one time, I felt that city government was the solution to our downtown problem; now it seems they are the problem.

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