City weighs event center parking


Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Downtown Event Center will be able to host events for up to 4,000 people while the available parking spaces total 400.

It's a problem the Rocky Mount City Council knew it would be facing one day and now it's here, said Councilman Reuben Blackwell during Monday's Committee of the Whole meeting.

The obvious solution — and perhaps the most expensive — is a downtown parking deck.

So far the idea has been spoken mostly in hushed whispers. No one wants to think about the cost of such an undertaking before the Event Center even opens. The city raised taxes by 2 cents last year and is proposing another 2.5-cent hike this coming fiscal year to pay debt on the Event Center. Where would the funding for a parking deck come from?

Blackwell suggested charging for parking as a start.

In the first open discussion about the serious need for parking, staff and council members talked about using temporary parking areas until a more permanent solution can be found.

Parking include spaces at the old post office, an old bank building and other downtown locations.

Councilwoman Chris Miller said many large cities deal with parking issues and often employ shuttle services to big events.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said streetside parking will provide some spaces. She said having parking problems is a good sign of a vibrant downtown. She said she's directed staff to find a parking solution.

Interim Assistant City Manager Peter Varney said staff is researching the feasibility of building a downtown parking deck.

Small-Toney said a parking deck might be needed in the very near future.

It's an issue that's come up before. Event Center General Manager Marcus Murrell was asked recently what his No. 1 problem was and he answered with one word: “Parking.”

Murrell said he plans to meet with the city engineer to discuss options to find more parking spots.

At 150,000 square feet, the Event Center covers a city block with little room left for adjacent parking.

That's why it stings so much to see the dilapidated church in the middle of the Event Center's parking lot, said Johnny Cunningham, executive director of ReGroup.

Cunningham has called out Councilman Andre Knight numerous times for buying the old church as a form of real estate speculation in anticipation of where the Event Center would be located.

Knight maintains the church was purchased to preserve black history and that he plans to turn the church into a museum.