PAXTON — Despite concerns about the appearance of favoring one business over another, the Paxton City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to designate five parking spaces downtown for use exclusively by clients of a yet-to-be-opened dental clinic.
Aldermen repeatedly raised concerns about whether it would be fair to reserve parking for one specific business during a 50-minute discussion about the proposal. However, those concerns ended up being outweighed by concerns that the investors who are planning to buy and renovate the building for the proposed clinic would end up taking their business elsewhere if their request for designated parking were to be rejected.
"Is it either-or?" Alderman Bill Wylie asked local Realtor Ron Lenington, who was in attendance on behalf of the investors.
"Pretty much so," Lenington responded.
According to Lenington, a local dentist — Dr. Mark Faught — and his investment partners are in the process of buying the three-story, brick building at 149 N. Market St., whose first floor currently occupies the Mena’s Mercantile antique shop and a vacant storefront.
Lenington said that Faught, who for the past two years has operated Paxton Family Dental at 225 N. Market St., plans to move his dental practice into the two storefronts, but both the purchase of the building and relocation of the clinic are contingent on five parking spaces next to the building being designated for use by the clinic’s clients.
Faught’s plan is to lease the second and third floors of the building to the Paxton Masonic Lodge #416 A.F. & A.M., which currently owns the building and uses its third floor for its meetings. Under such an arrangement, the Masonic Lodge would continue to use the third story and would have the ability to sublet the second floor for use by a business or perhaps even multiple businesses, according to the Masonic Lodge’s Jim Shearl.
"That building used to be full of commerce," Shearl said, noting it once occupied a tailor and law offices, among other businesses. "So that’s a pretty exciting thing."
Mayor Bill Ingold said Faught intends to install an elevator in the northwest corner of the building as part of planned renovations totaling between $600,000 and $800,000. The renovation would also involve transforming the first floor into an office for general dentistry, as well as orthodontics and oral surgery, Ingold said.
"It would be a tremendous asset to the city, not only to get that building in use but also to generate property tax revenue (for the city) and to increase the increment (revenue) for the TIF (tax-increment financing district) in that area," Ingold told aldermen. "So it would be a very, very beneficial project."
"That lodge is the most beautiful Masonic Lodge in the state, and it will be a magnificent place once it’s done," Shearl added.
"It benefits us some, but I think it will benefit the whole town," added the Masonic Lodge’s Jim Niewold.
Parking in area seldom used
The five parking spaces to be used exclusively by the clinic’s clients are located on the north side of the building — on the south side of the 100 block of East State Street, closest to the alley. Ingold suggested they be reserved for the clinic’s clients during normal business hours, perhaps 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Early on in the discussion, Wylie asked the mayor if other downtown merchants had requested their own designated parking spaces.
Ingold said some have, but he noted that those businesses had requested designated parking on Market Street, not State Street. Ingold noted that the 100 block of East State Street is seldom used for parking.
"Six times (in the past week) I was down there ... and there was nobody parked there," Ingold said.
Alderman Rob Steiger agreed that the 100 block of East State Street — which dead-ends at the railroad tracks — is not used much.
"I’ve drove by there numerous times, and I’ve seen, at the most, three cars parked down there," Steiger said.
Despite the parking spaces there being seldom used, the council was told that Faught and his partners needed a guarantee that parking would be available specifically for their clinic. It was noted that having parking spaces available next to the clinic is needed, in particular, because some clients may still be experiencing the effects of anaesthesia following surgery and subsequently may have some trouble getting to their vehicles.
Turn it into a parking lot?
Aldermen remained concerned, though, about the possibility of appearing to give favoritism to the clinic over other businesses that also want their own designated parking. Those concerns led the council to discuss, as an alternative to designated parking, the possibility of turning the 100 block of East State Street into a parking lot in order to create more parking not just for the clinic but for all of the downtown’s businesses.
"With a parking lot, we would avoid the appearance of favoring one merchant over another," Wylie noted. "I really think that’s the way to go."
Steiger called the idea of a parking lot a "compromise" that could satisfy the needs of both Faught and the city. Steiger said one option would be to keep the existing angled parking spaces there and add a lane of parking in the center of the particularly wide street. If that happened, Steiger said he thinks it would create about eight additional parking spaces.
Ingold said there may be a possibility that even more parking could be added to the east end of the road, near where it dead-ends.
Ingold said there are currently seven angled parking spaces on the south side of the 100 block of East State Street and six on the north side.
Lenington said turning the area into a parking lot seems like "an excellent idea." However, Lenington said he feels that Faught will still want designated spaces for his clinic regardless.
"He’s said that’s very crucial to his decision to spend this money," Lenington said.
Cody Kietzman, president of the Paxton Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, agreed that the city should not show favoritism to certain businesses and should treat all of them the same, but he also said he believes "there’s a little give-and-take when you’re trying to get something as big as this."
"The list of people willing to put between $600,000 and $800,000 into a downtown building is pretty slim — probably one name," Kietzman told aldermen.
"If we had this great facility where people would come to town (to use the new dental clinic), the hope would be they would stop at (the local pharmacy and other businesses in town) when they’re done (at the clinic)," Kietzman continued. "So I think this can benefit everybody involved.
"My goal (as the chamber’s president) is to bring people to Paxton, and I think this will do that. I get the concerns ... but I’d sure hate to lose a deal like this over parking spaces that aren’t used."
Andy Hudson, owner of a pharmacy downtown, had similar concerns.
"I’m just nervous that if we don’t give him (the parking spaces), we might still have our empty street down here (in the 100 block of East State Street) and he’s going to take his investment elsewhere," Hudson said.
Shearl voiced similar feelings.
"I’m concerned that if we don’t show we’re doing something (to accommodate Faust’s needs), we’re going to lose the opportunity to do this, and I genuinely think it could evaporate on us. That’s a real and genuine concern," Shearl said.
Aldermen finally take a vote
Wylie then said he feels the city should go ahead and grant the designated parking for the clinic.
"Just do what you have to do," Wylie said. "Make it happen."
Alderman Rob Pacey then made a motion, which was seconded by Wylie, to designate the five parking spaces closest to the alley on the south side of the 100 block of East State Street for use by the dental clinic, subject to the council’s approval of a separate development agreement with the investors.
City Attorney Marc Miller suggested requiring the development agreement in order to ensure that the parking designation only goes into effect once the building is developed as planned.
Although transforming the street into a parking lot was not approved as part of the council’s vote, plans for a parking lot there will continue to be pursued. Ingold said he and Mark LeClair, the city’s public works director, would visit the area in question the following day to see what kind of configuration would work to make a parking lot there.
Steiger said he voted "no" because the parking lot plan was not "tied in" to what was voted on.