Royal Oak — Mayor Michael Fournier on Wednesday said he has plans for improved parking downtown and vowed that current parking problems were a "temporary issue" after a long-time city restaurateur said he was closing partly due to limited spaces for customers.
“We’re adding additional parking structures to accommodate the growing demand of workers and visitors in our downtown," Fournier said during his annual State of the City address Wednesday at Oakland Community College.
Fournier said parking problems were "a temporary issue" after Andiamo owner Joe Vicari blamed lack of parking and lease issues for closing its Royal Oak site Friday. Fournier countered Vicari's claims by saying, "I don't know if it's the food."
The first new parking structure has opened on Center and Washington, more than a block from the former Andiamo's. Vicari said increased competition in Ferndale and Detroit decreased sales by 10 percent over five years. Even after remodeling, it lost business and received numerous complaints about parking, which Vicari said led to the closure.
"They closed the parking lot and took away our valet parking," Vicari said Wednesday. "Our customers are a little bit older, not young ones who are barhopping. They want to park in a reasonable distance ... We were down 15 percent ... and in my mind it was only going to get worse in the winter. I predict more closures on Main Street within the next year. "
"Certainly, he admitted that his sales were lower in the last number of years," Fournier said. "What I can say is I don’t believe it’s all attributed to parking in the downtown."
The mayor pressed the need for transit plans and improvements. He said the city has begun upgrading roads and providing more bike lanes after discussions with cyclists.
"People aren't working the same and they're certainly not going to be moving around the same," Fournier said. "We’re investing and repairing our local streets. We’ve added bike lanes and we’re adding more bike lanes and we’re doing it smartly... for all of us, to connect our neighborhoods."
Fournier said more public transit options would connect residents to neighboring cities and bring in more business.
"There's a potential opportunity for public transit," he said. "The voters spoke in Royal Oak when the RTA failed … we’ll have a (new) plan in front of voters this fall and as a community, we will decide if public transit is right for us. But again, we’re focused on the future."
Royal Oak has been considered a city bus service if a proposal reaches the November ballot. The city's proposal, ROGO, for Royal Oak Go, would expand its SMART bus service by adding stops and increasing service frequency.
The proposed ballot issue depends on if the Regional Transportation Authority of Southeast Michigan moves on a revamped proposal for regional mass transit. The authority is expected to take up the issue for a preliminary vote July 19.
Mary Mills, a Royal Oak resident for 30 years, said she hoped to hear more about transit. She said she is concerned about mobility options for seniors.
"I want to take the bus to the zoo, my appointment at Beaumont for a mammogram and back home without having to worry about parking or being late," said Mills, 65. "We're up and going now, but what happens when I can't drive or ride a bike?"