Finding a parking spot in downtown Gainesville will get a little easier on Monday, when the first three floors of the Main Street parking deck reopen after the deck closed in September for an expansion.
Main Street will also reopen to traffic, opening up a path from the square to Jesse Jewell Parkway.
The deck has been closed for about two months so two new floors can be added, bringing 180 new spaces that will allow the deck to fit about 600 cars. The top three floors of the deck, as well as new restrooms on the ground floor, are expected to open in January.
The closure of the deck took about 400 parking spots away from the square. The city offered a shuttle so people could park in outlying lots and get a ride into the square, but the service was shut down after about three weeks due to low ridership. Several businesses just outside the square opened up their lots for public parking to compensate for the shortage.
Local businesses said Wednesday that the closure of the deck had made it more difficult to find parking on the square, but having more parking spaces downtown could only help downtown businesses.
“I’m just grateful that we have loyal customers. I think in the long run, it’s going to be better for everybody,” said Albert Lunalover, owner of Avocados restaurant. “I think it’s a positive thing that the city of Gainesville is doing.”
Erin Demeter, a supervisor at Purchase Effect, said business had slowed down at the shop since the deck closed, and several business owners had expressed concerns about slowing traffic on the square. But she was hopeful that business would pick up when more parking becomes available Monday.
“I think a flood of customers are finally going to be able to have parking. … It’s been hard to find parking, but now that it’s going to be open, we’re really excited. We’ve been waiting,” Demeter said.
Downtown businesses collaborated to weather the construction impacts. Carroll Daniel Construction, the Gainesville-based contractor that managed the deck project and is building its own headquarters downtown, picked up employees’ bills for lunch on the square. Downtown Drafts, a craft beer bar and growler shop, gave customers a discount if they brought in a receipt from the Collegiate Grill. The Collegiate was especially hard hit by the construction due to its location on Main Street.
“I think all the businesses just got through it together and it worked out,” Aimee Hoecker, co-owner of Downtown Drafts, said.
Hoecker said her business had not seen a significant drop in customers during the deck closure, which she attributed to the city’s efforts to find parking alternatives and communicate with the public about the issue.
“We’re especially super excited that it’s going to be open just in time for the holiday season, which I think will be awesome for everybody,” she said. “We appreciate the city putting the extra effort out there and we appreciate our customers that helped all the businesses through it.”
City spokeswoman Nikki Perry said the project had gone smoothly and stuck to budget and schedule. Officials are grateful that businesses worked together and that the community still supported downtown businesses, she said.
“We appreciate everybody’s patience during the construction. I know it was a long and sometimes painful process, but everyone pitched in and worked together,” Perry said. “It was nice to see the downtown businesses and the community come together during the project to make it as easy as possible.”