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Safety panel suggests downtown potties, parking measures

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Stairwells in the parking garage downtown on May 21, 2019. (Molly Urbina/The Daily Reflector)

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A group tasked with improving downtown safety is recommending a list of new measures ranging from paid nighttime parking to the placement of porta-johns to address frequent public urination.

The city’s Uptown Safety Taskforce presented the recommendations during a workshop meeting of the Greenville City Council on Monday afternoon. Council members expressed concern as Police Chief Mark Holtzman explained that inadequate bathroom facilities had created a problem at night.

As clubs and bars empty, Holtzman said, people are doing their business in parking lots, stairwells and elevators of the parking deck and even on the property of Jarvis United Methodist Church. Holtzman caught a woman in the act, himself.

“Last year I stopped downtown in the Five Points lot, went back to my car and interrupted a female in front of my car,” Holtzman said. “It was ridiculous. And while I was there, people were running over to Jarvis church, and the police officer over there was yelling at them to not go on to Jarvis church area.”

To combat the problem, Kevin Mulligan, director of public works, proposed parking portable toilet trailers to augment facilities at local clubs, pubs and nightspots.    

“We have a problem with urination in the downtown because sometimes, some of these bars don’t have adequate restrooms or supplies for the restrooms and that certainly creates a problem in our public areas like our city parking lots, our alleys,” Mulligan said.  

Mayor P.J. Connelly balked at the idea of having to put out portable toilets. 

“That’s ridiculous, we shouldn’t have to put out porta potties,” Connelly said.  

Mulligan said he has traveled to other cities and has seen portable toilet trailers used to tackle the issue. 

While no formal plans have been made to install the toilets, Mulligan said if approved by council, they would be placed in designated problem areas including: the Hodges lot behind Chico’s, the plaza by the parking deck adjacent to the hammock area, and the Edwards lot adjacent to the Guco Credit Union building, across from the Five Points lot. 

Holtzman added, “It is a nightly thing and it’s amazing how many people are doing it. We’re talking about how to deal with 3,000-4,000 people that are hitting our sidewalks in about a 20 minute period. That’s why we think it’s appropriate,” Holtzman said.  

The Uptown Safety Taskforce is comprised of nearly a dozen public safety and government officials who meet weekly to improve overall safety in downtown Greenville. Holtzman, Greenville Fire-Rescue Chief Eric Griffin and Assistant City Manager Ken Graves are a few of the members. 

The taskforce also is recommending changes to public parking downtown including charging for nighttime parking. Highlights of the parking changes include

■ Nighttime paid parking starting at 10 p.m.

■ Patrons would use a parking app or pay station.

■ A two hour time limit for street parking.

■ Extended parking in public lots and the city parking deck.

Holtzman said that the parking proposal would improve public safety, reduce expenses for the police department and provide an accountability for who is downtown after hours.  

“It is very expensive for us to run our nighttime operations, Holtzman said. “We have thousands of people hitting the streets each night and that’s costing us to bring in some overtime ... In addition to expenses, another thing a parking management system provides us with is accountability. It tells us who is in our downtown,” Holtzman said. 

City Manager Ann Wall said the proposal would offer several benefits to the city. 

“We will have a better idea of who is downtown, and they will hopefully leave when establishments close down,” Wall said. 

She added, “It will generate some additional revenue that will cover the additional costs that we’re incurring downtown.”

Council member William Litchfield suggested a simpler solution to parking would be for people to pay when they leave the parking deck.  

“I’ve traveled to other cities that have parking decks — they kind of use a simple process of you pull in, you push a button and it gives you a ticket. And when you go out, you insert the ticket and insert your card,” Litchfield said. “That’s pretty simple, pretty easy, no apps, no confusion. Mostly anybody can use that,” Litchfield said.

He asked Holtzman, “Is there a reason why we haven’t looked at something like that?”  

Wall responded, “Conceptually, what we wanted to talk to the council about is the idea that charging for parking downtown at night is a really good opportunity to figure out who is there as well as to generate some additional revenue to offset our costs.”

During the workshop, council also heard proposals to change existing sound ordinances for businesses, about crowd management solutions, sidewalk encroachment and a city ambassador program.

Holtzman touted the program as a cost-effective approach to public safety and said that other cities including Raleigh have adopted such programs.  

Under the program, volunteer ambassadors would help provide assistance to those living in and visiting downtown Greenville. 

Holtzman said the ambassadors also will be given radios to communicate with police officers and help patrol and observe certain parking lots and other areas and would report any suspicious activity. 

Ambassadors also would help promote tourism by making dining recommendations, suggesting popular tourist attractions in Greenville among other responsibilities, Holtzman said.

The full list of recommendations presented to the council can be found by visiting greenvillenc.gov. Public engagement meetings where citizens can voice concerns are scheduled for June 5 and June 20. 

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @Tylerstocks1987

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