Audrey Child: Change and a parking garage

Thursday, January 06, 2022

One issue never gets mentioned when people talk about their opposition to a new parking garage: the failure to build one years ago. That one was reluctantly approved but “compromised” by Town Meeting. It was vastly watered down by shrinking the below-ground level and chopping off the upper stories.

Around $300,000 was added to the cost for strengthening the structure “in case they decided to add upper stories at a later date. Then the parking spots in the new ground-level “garage” were spread out, benches added to create a park-like ambiance to satisfy those who thought parking garages were ugly, and even added an art display case for changing art shows.

Quiet residential streets near downtown were lined with parking meters and parked cars. The anti-garage citizens were satisfied and the battle was over.

That quasi-garage, built in a town-owned central spot of the downtown, settled the question, but it was a major push in the exodus of businesses from downtown. Even though businesses arrived after that, they couldn’t sustain growth without people filling the sidewalks. It answers the question of why there is no shortage of parking spaces: so many businesses have left that there is hardly anything to come downtown for, except to eat at student hangouts, Amherst Cinema, and the library. One remaining bookstore, Hastings and a few shops, struggle to keep their customers and patrons, while people with short memories decry the idea of filling a need in order to regain a lively downtown.

Some people seem to be in despair about the fact that Amherst is changing, but having come to town over 50 years ago, I can attest that change was happening then and it will continue as long as we live. And have you ever seen anyone sitting on the benches in that “garage”?

Audrey Child