Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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No parking hurts plans for eatery in downtown

Finding a restaurant to replace Bagpipers Pub & Eatery on Summit Street is proving difficult without adjacent parking, the Finkbeiner administration has told city council.

Bagpipers, a Scottish-theme restaurant that anchored the corner of Fort Industry Square at Summit Street and Jefferson Avenue, closed last month after less than 18 months in business.

Sabrina Grimm, acting manger of downtown development, sent council a memo last week informing members that her department contacted several restaurant owners to gauge their interest in operating a restaurant at the location.

“All potential operators stated that additional line-of-site parking will need to be provided adjacent to this site on Summit Street in order for a restaurant to succeed,” Ms. Grimm's memo stated.

The administration has maintained that parking in the Summit Street area is needed not only to serve the planned Water Street Station development at the former Toledo Edison steam plant, but also Bagpipers and Murphy's Place, a jazz bar on Water Street just below Bagpipers.

The administration wants to put a parking lot at its newly acquired land on Summit Street, where the Federal Building is located, to serve both areas. Council has yet to give its support to that idea.

Bagpipers' owner, David Gibson, previously complained that lack of convenient parking was hurting his business.

He could not be reached for comment on why his eatery closed.

Joan Russell, owner of Murphy's, said lack of convenient parking continues to be a problem for her business. However, Ms. Russell said she believes competition, not parking, brought about Bagpipers' demise.

“I think there is no question [that] the development on the east side of the river was crippling to them,” she said.

Ms. Russell was referring to the Docks entertainment area on the east bank of the Maumee River, which boasts six restaurants.

“It's too bad. We liked the idea of activity down here,” she said of Bagpipers'.

She said Murphy's has not been hurt as much by the Docks, because, as a jazz bar, it has a specific niche. “We're more specialized and smaller, and I can respond quickly to a downturn in business and make adjustments very quickly,” Ms. Russell said.

Ms. Russell said she finds it strange that the city would spend tax money developing areas that are putting existing enterprises out of business.

“If it's city money, you kind of wonder,” she said.

Parking has been a problem since her bar opened, and she said she's not sure what the solution is.

In September, city council revealed a proposed plan by the Downtown Toledo Parking Authority to provide improved parking for the Fort Industry Square restaurants.

The plan called for the parking authority to lease a privately owned lot on Water Street directly behind the two restaurants and operate it from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. daily.

But the authority was never able to work out a deal that satisfied the city and parking lot owner Tim Wade, president of the Reuben Co., said Clayton Johnston, president of the parking authority.

Mr. Johnston said the Reuben Co. was not willing to lease the lot to the parking authority unless the city agreed to remove about a dozen parking meters it maintains on Water Street.

Mr. Wade contended the meters were competing with his daytime business, but the city was not willing to remove them because business operators in Fort Industry Square felt they were advantageous to their patrons, Mr. Johnston said.

The Reuben Co.'s lot has about 240 spaces directly behind Fort Industry, and is open in the evenings by a coin-operated gate, Mr. Johnston said.

Mr. Johnston and Ms. Russell said that while the parking is close by and plentiful, it is not “user friendly.”

The lot has no attendant at night, is bordered by an area with lots of trees, and many customers find it to be dark and foreboding, Ms. Russell said.

The area sometimes has a problem with vagrants, which contributes to a feeling that the area is “kind of spooky at night,” Mr. Johnston said.

However, he said parking alone cannot be blamed for the restaurant's closing. Nearby eateries with no parking have packed houses at lunchtime, Mr. Johnston noted.

“I hope that we get another restaurant in there. There's a wonderful atmosphere in there. It can work. We will do our share,” he said.

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