Updated: Feb 21, 2022
It can be said that the economic health and vitality of a downtown can be attributed to its availability of parking for workers and customers. Too much available parking may indicate an economic downturn. Not enough available parking may indicate a vibrant and robust downtown. This is what the Village of Waterbury has experienced over the past forty years.
During the 1980s and 1990s Waterbury Village saw reasonable growth in its overall population and economic development. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was the largest contributor to this growth during this period. However, as a manufacturer it added economic health via more employees working and shopping in the village, but it did little to promote tourism, Vermont’s primary statewide economic driver. Therefore, residents and non-locals had little problem finding parking in the village. This all changed from 2003 through 2013.
During the 1990s Vermont began to see the rise of craft beer sales driven primarily by The Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, Catamount Brewery in Windsor, and Magic Hat Brewery, also in Burlington. There has been a significant increase in craft brewers ever since. For Waterbury, the big change was in 2003 with the opening of The Alchemist, a brew pub on South Main Street, at the intersection of Main and Elm Street. This restaurant and on-site brewery saw high annual growth. At first, its customer base was primarily locals. In later years, most of their customers came from all over Vermont as its reputation as a top craft beer brewery spread.
This success motivated other entrepreneurs to open restaurants or repurpose existing ones to take advantage of the large increase in customers seeking the best beer in the world, right here in Waterbury. The tremendous success of many local restaurants led to serious parking issues as customers were now arriving from all over the country and Canada to partake in Vermont’s amazing craft beer industry. As well, increased retail shopping led to further parking issues in the village. This concern led to the creation of a parking committee in the summer of 2014, composed of community volunteers.
The parking committee worked hard to find solutions to these parking issues by collecting parking space occupancy data, reaching out to businesses, informing the public about parking options, and investigating possible solutions. Based on the results, the Village Trustees included $10,000 in the 2016 village budget for a professional consultant, the Stantec Consulting Firm, to review the data and work with the trustees and parking committee to determine what, if any additional data was needed and to prepare a report on recommendations to address the parking situation.
The Waterbury Parking Committee immediately began working with Stantec to conduct a downtown parking assessment of the current parking situation, determine causes of current conditions, and make recommendations for Waterbury officials on how best to alleviate the parking challenges in the downtown core. Stantec used the parking data collected by the committee in 2014, 2015, and 2016 to conduct a formal analysis of Waterbury’s parking supply and demand. The Stantec report was presented to the public in December 2016 and contained information on the existing conditions, parking adequacy, and recommendations. While the report noted, “no action was required to maintain the high quality of parking service currently offered in the downtown area,” it did provide suggested actions “to enhance the existing parking experience.”
Some of these recommendations included enhancing public communication both online and through signage, working with employers to identify and secure remote parking for employees, monitoring downtown parking usage annually, negotiating agreements with property owners to indefinitely preserve public access to the private lots during evening hours, exploring the possibility of acquiring the TD Bank lot and conducting a feasibility analysis for constructing a parking deck over this lot, maintaining public access to parking at the 51 Main Street property at least through completion of the reconstruction of Main Street, and maintaining restraint in granting requests for parking waivers from future development projects in consideration of the limited availability of reserve parking in the study area.
Many of the parking recommendations were put on hold as Waterbury was notified by the State of Vermont that its long-awaited Main Street reconstruction project was to begin in 2019. Town officials decided it was better to wait and see what impact the reconstruction of Main Street would have on parking. The reconstruction is scheduled to be completed by summer 2021 and with this completion the hope that town officials will review Stantec’s recommendations and address parking in downtown Waterbury.