Working together is key to Camden's success

Camden sees economic gain from additional parking
By Martin Cates | Oct 12, 2012

Camden is widely recognized as a wonderful place to visit. One of Camden’s many reasons for that is our downtown. Earlier this year, with the help of residents, business people, property owners, and municipal staff, Camden developed a Downtown Master Plan. The purpose was to take steps to ensure we keep the things people love about Camden, while tackling areas we could improve. One of the issues people identified as needing improvement was Camden’s parking problem.

A side effect of being so popular is heavy traffic especially during peak periods. We don’t want people sitting in traffic; we want them to get out of their cars and experience Camden. If they don’t see a parking space or know where to go for off-street parking, some people just keep driving through. For years, the primary focus had been on the on-street parking. As we gave more thought to the parking issue, we considered how the type of parking can affect the appeal of the downtown, its character, and whether we are considered pedestrian friendly.

We came to the conclusion that we don’t lack parking, we lacked letting people know where our parking is located, and how to find local shops. The town installed easily seen bright blue and white “P” signs to direct drivers to the off-street parking areas that are just a short walk from Main Street. The town installed “P” signs to direct drivers to more than 70 spaces at the Camden Public Safety building lot on Washington Street, 22 spaces at the Mechanic Street lot, 19 spaces on Washington Street, 24 at the Camden Public Library, and 90 at the public landing. In concert with the new parking signs, downtown businesses came together to design and install new colorful signs that direct people to downtown stores and restaurants.

As we discussed the parking issue, Matt Orne, one of the owners at the Knox Mill complex, had an idea. He told the town that he has more parking spaces than he needed at the Knox Mill site. He determined he could share those spaces thus helping the town ease its parking crunch. This would add more than 100 new parking spaces that are just a short walk to the center of downtown Camden and the harbor.

On April 17, the Camden Select Board approved a three-year agreement with Orne to lease 106 spaces at the Knox Mill for $1 a year. We are very grateful for Orne’s civic-minded creativity and generosity. These spaces dramatically increased the availability of off-street parking for downtown employees, visitors, and the public. Best of all, these spaces are both free and worry-free. People can park at the Knox Mill for as long as they want for free. They can visit our downtown without being concerned about a two-hour time limit. This opens up the on-street parking spaces for short-term parking for quick visits and errands. Additionally, local business owners and employees now have a place to park without worry of the shuffle and congestion that has plagued our downtown for years.

Peter Gross, chairman of Camden’s Community & Economic Development Committee, or CEDAC, commended this move noting that off-street parking has additional benefits: “Small towns are much more appealing and seem friendlier to residents and visitors alike when the main streets are not lined 'wall-to-wall' with parked cars. This allows people to more fully enjoy our lovely downtown.”

As Camden’s busy summer continued, a positive trend for downtown business owners emerged as they noticed that not only were they busy, but there were parking spaces available along the Main Street corridor. In more than 30 years of running The Smiling Cow, owner Meg Quijano observed “I have never seen a summer where there were actually parking spaces available on Main Street. This was definitely not because there were fewer people visiting Camden. We had the best season we've had in years and more people than ever! I can say positively that the new parking and directional signs along with the new off-street parking areas in the town made a huge difference in freeing up short-term parking on the main streets of downtown. We had far fewer visitors asking about places to park long-term as they had already found them via the signage.”

The effort to clearly mark parking areas to make it easier for people to stop and visit Camden, tastefully done signs that help people find the shops they are looking for, and boosting the number of public parking spaces by more than 100, have been great additions to our downtown. Camden voters will have an additional opportunity in November to vote on amendments to the sign ordinance that will make us even more welcoming without changing Camden’s unique character, and allowing your business community to tastefully promote their products and services.

As we enjoy the remaining days of autumn, I wanted to thank the residents, business people, and staff who have worked so diligently to strengthen Camden’s future. I encourage all Camden residents and business people to get involved and stay engaged in shaping Camden’s future.

Martin Cates, chairman

Camden Select Board

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