UPDATE: Groton Will Pay For Downtown Mystic Parking

Town Council decides to foot the bill; street milling to be done Thursday


The Groton Town Council decided Tuesday night to pay for parking the in the  lot in an effort to .

The deal with the art center will cover five hours of parking for anyone in the lot. The town will pay the art center $3/hour for that time.

The town will foot the bill for six weeks and possibly beyond to the tune of not more than $50,000 in available encumbered funds.

It could start as soon as Thursday but definitely by the weekend - the deal needs to be finalized between the two parties.

The plan is hoped to by the ongoing streetscape project. Merchants said the , traffic delays and lack of free onstreet parking has hurt their businesses.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Tricia Cunningham, president. “This will afford us the opportunity to promote downtown Mystic again. All the businesses and the town can wrap their arms around this as a whole. I’m thrilled.”

Downtown shop owner Cathy McHugh told the council that the time to “point fingers” is over: “We need to just get through this.”

Mayor Heather Bond Somers explained that the arts center provides the first half hour of free parking and the town will pick up the other 4 ½ hours at a rate of $3 per hour, per car—with no limitations on who can park there. Anyone that parks longer than the free 5 hours will pay the overage at the $3 an hour rate.

“The town wants to do something beneficial for the merchants. Having free parking for people that want to shop, go to restaurants,” she said.

The council supported the plan preliminarily at the Committee of the Whole and then voted during its regular meeting to support the resolution; Councilor Frank O’Beirne abstained and Councilor Bruce Flax was not at the meeting.  

“How quickly can we make signs,” Mayor Somers asked.

Meanwhile, the streetscape project “is making good progress” project manager Rick Norris told the council.  To that end, he said that street milling will begin Thursday just after dawn. That part of the project was supposed to be done at night but Norris said the contractor was not able to make that happen.

Milling is an “early Christmas present,” said Town Manager Mark Oefinger because once the milling is completed, paving is not far behind. Indeed, paving is slated to begin June 27. Milling will require the shutdown of streets Thursday, the police department has been in consultation with Norris and Oefinger to coordinate traffic concerns.

Several councilors were upset that they were precluded from commenting more on the streetscape debacle that has left downtown a disaster area and merchants struggling to stay alive; Oefinger cautioned councilors from remarking personally because of the threat of possible litigation.

Vera M Leming June 20, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Will one need to verify their Groton address for free parking.
Ellyn Moran Santiago June 20, 2012 at 11:15 AM
Vera, Mayor Somers made it clear: free parking for anyone that comes to downtown Mystic.
MPM June 20, 2012 at 11:29 AM
I just lost 4 weeks of reservations at my rental property as a direct result of conditions downtown. Who is going to pay for that?
D Paul June 20, 2012 at 12:24 PM
It looks like the art's center is guaranteed to benefit. I think it's a good thing... Those who would not go downtown may go now. With the recent 7% increase in our taxes... I hope we can afford it. No New Taxes Please!
Genny V. June 20, 2012 at 12:29 PM
I have sympathy for the merchants and my fellow downtown residents but come on- why are our tax dollars paying for 6 weeks or more (and you know there's more) of parking? I want to know if we're collecting our $500 a day from Pettini and I want to know why they aren't responsible for this free parking. This entire project is an insane waste of money from inception to non- completion.
Richard T. Froh June 20, 2012 at 12:34 PM
I think downtown Mystic's fight to become economically sustainable and viable will soon be half over. The next challenge will be to attract paying customers to the shops, and this will require several changes: matching business hours to actual retail shopping hours; attracting shoppers who are willing and able to walk a few blocks; filling the hideous "crater" that has plagued downtown for far too long with something that makes sense and creates synergy; painting a few eyesore store fronts, and installing attractive way-finding for visitors and creating a "sense of place" that is helpful and attractive (a la Mystic Mobility Study recommendations). Mystic's economy has changed from ship building to manufacturing to tourism. Each of these changes has been extremely painful and difficult for locals. To become attractive to a new generation of tourists - accommodating their tastes, their transportation and way-finding needs, and their preferences - will be necessary if Mystic is to be a viable tourist destination. Will Mystic adapt to a new generation of tourists and be successful, or will it cling to a car-dependent past?
Genevieve Triplett June 20, 2012 at 12:39 PM
I also am pleased action has been taken to improve the moral down town. It took a lot of noise to prove business is down, it took a very short time for the government to allocate 50k. This should make us look twice at our local government. I ask again how did we get here? The most shocking thing about this article is the milling of the road to take place during the day. We have been told since May the milling would be done at night. Noitice the Orange tags in town saying no parking from 4am till 5 pm all day tomorrow. That means zero dollar days for the merchants again. I am begging you, once the dust settles come shop Mystic, who ever is left can now advertise there is free parking!
Ross Mandell June 20, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Whats more appalling is that the Town manager, planner and head of economic development think that everything is going just fine and that the project is beautiful and on schedule. Amazing. As far as finding people willing to walk a few miles to shop well that's another thing. What people should do and what they actually do are two different things. As retailers we must cater to what they actually do. I can see the ad now: "Come to Mystic where we make things difficult for you".
W@lly June 20, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Are you kidding me Ross? So you whine and moan and complain about parking, and now that people have somewhere to park FOR FREE you start complaining about how far of a walk it is?! That parking lot is feet from most businesses. How about we address the real issue with you Mystic businesses and that would be your hours. If you want people to shop down there, you need to be open when they're not working. I was bored this weekend and never once did downtown Mystic cross my mind. Want to know why? Cause I'm not giving one cent to those ungrateful business owners. Traffic didn’t scare me away, you did! Also, let's see if you’re still complaining in a year from now when you have a beautiful downtown area to call home. You won’t be, I guarantee it.
Ross Mandell June 20, 2012 at 01:49 PM
I was responding to Rich's comment. The parking lot is close but the free parking is only through August 7. Other stores close early but we are always open past 7. Our particular business does not tend to be a night business under most situations. What the others do is not under my control. The project took away 12 spaces and the construction itself has taken away many more, while the mess they make simply sends people elsewhere, probably never to return. To tell people that parking at the end of Pearl Street and walking down here is good for them is no really an inducement for them to shop here. I am not their nanny.
David Irons June 20, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Do the businesses that are affected just want the Groton residents' money? Or do they want money spent by visitors from out of town?
Sherry Cutler June 20, 2012 at 03:58 PM
I fully support our local and family businesses! However, Groton has screwed up their planning once again! Let's remember who pays for this AGAIN. The businesses AND the taxpayers. What is going on? How can WE let this happen AGAIN?
ElleT June 20, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Knowing that parking will be more easily available (& not require a credit card) is definitely more of an incentive for me, personally, to go to Mystic more often. I've been on record that it's a hassle for us to go there lately so I'll definitely see how opening the lot back up works. I'm all for it.
Rosanne Kotowski June 20, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Of course everyone in Town supports all of our businesses. The issue really is should the taxpayers hard earned dollars be spent on free parking? In my opinion no. As much as I am embarrassed by the Planning Departments’ managing the street scope project, and understand the anger and frustration of the downtown Mystic businesses, the Town Council should have opposed this misuse of taxpayer hard earned dollars. Why? Because this money was never voted on by anyone to pay for parking. It is coming from the Executive Management account . But where is there $50,000 in an account of about $300,000? It is money that was "encumbered" over the years. Money that was appropriated and never spent, and went "off budget". AND since it is already "encumbered" the RTM does not need to approve the expenditure, even though it is over the $10,000 amount that the RTM must approve per Charter. We have also learned recently that there are many accounts with "encumbered" money that is off budget. The Town Manager revealed that there is approximately $1,500,000 of "encumbered" money of which some will be returned to the general fund on June 30, 2012. This information is available on the Town website (but you really have to search for it), find the CAFR document and see page 67 and there is an encumbrance amount of $1,475,000 for both the Town and the Board of Education
Beverly Hayes June 20, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Doesn't that really mean that we, the tax payers, are paying for something that we had nothing to do with?
Jim Bodle June 21, 2012 at 02:20 PM
I guess that I agree that we should help the merchants that have been seriously damaged by the construction debacle in downtown Mystic. BUT!!!! What's this business about using encumbered. funds? This week's Mystic Press has an excellent article on this issue and I recommend it to all of you as it explains what "encumbered" really means. It seems that our town officials with the full knowledge of our town manager, have hidden away $1, 200,000.00 from overfunding of their yearly department expenses. To my mind these funds should be applied against the following year's operating budget, not hidden away as they have obviously been doing. Watching our various department heads and our town manager tell us and our elected officials that they need more money every year while they hide overfunding from all of us is disgusting. The conduct of this downtown disaster has been a nightmare and the competance of our planning and project management departments is certainly called into question. However, I,ll bet that nobody gets fired and that they all get a raise next year. Bottom line? We need a new Town Manager. Jim Bodle
Ross Mandell June 21, 2012 at 02:49 PM
and planner and director of economic development.
Ross Mandell June 21, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I know that they are three different people and we need three different people to do this work.
W@lly June 21, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Your website states that you're open from 7am - 7pm.... And I'll say this again, they took away illegal parking spaces and added handicap ones. They extended the sidewalk for safety purposes and to accomodate crosswalks which was all mandated by the State DOT. You may not like it but I bet you'd like a dead body in the middle of the road a lot less. People can and will walk. Perhaps you should encourage them to use the lot that is easily accessible directly across the street from your shop. Make sure they use the crosswalk though ;)
littleredhouse June 21, 2012 at 03:49 PM
When I'm in downtown Mystic, the majority of the stores are closed. True, it's after 7pm and I'm there for dinner but I love to putz around these kinds of stores and they're never opened. I'd be much more inclined to help them out if I saw them putting in the same effort and staying opened later. It's summertime and tons of people flock to Mystic to eat dinner. It'd be in their best interest to stay open later.
Ross Mandell June 21, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Our own business does not lend itself to many night customers, especially compared to the cost of staying open. We are a morning business. But we will stay open if people are here. many of the others are solo and the owner needs to get home for his or her own families. Its a tough call. I agree that it would be better if they stayed open later. I used to stay open every night until 9 but the cost was high and few customers came in after 8.
augie42 June 21, 2012 at 07:19 PM
The sad thing about having that much encumbered money 'lying around' is that the budget process that put it there was not strict enough. No one asks where the left over money is....and the next year the Town asks for more? This is what we have a contingency fund for, hence the name. Each dept needs to spend within limits, and the excess should go back to the general fund at the end of each year....with the biggest eye on the Education budget.
Richard T. Froh June 21, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Some clarifications: Ross, I believe that we are not complaining about your store, but that nothing other than an ice cream cone is available for purchase n Mystic after people finish their days at the two major attractions and arrive downtown. If Mystic depends on parking directly in front of stores, then pack up and leave now, because it was just as unsustainable with the former number of parking places as it is with the current number. Now the streets are usable by large numbers of pedestrians, which (unless y'all plan to install drive-throughs) are ALL of your customers. Mystic's way-finding is currently abysmal. It needs to be visitor-friendly. Visitors need signage showing locations and distances to parking and attractions. Nobody understands distances until they are displayed and depicted, so people are afraid to walk because they don't know how far they will have to walk or what direction downtown is or parking is. Mystic has to be explained so people know what to expect. Visitors like a LITTLE mystery and excitement in their vacations, but fear getting too far away or lost. Go visit the Mystic Mobility Study and learn about what visitors want.


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