When Paul and Tom Murphy rework the parking lot at a downtown property they just bought, the two brothers figure they’ll generate another dozen or so parking spots along West Milwaukee Street.
The Janesville men closed on a former funeral home property at 15 N. Jackson St. last week. One of the property’s amenities—in fact, the first amenity the Murphys plan to upgrade and use—is the parking lot at the northwest corner of West Milwaukee and North Jackson streets.
The Murphys want to reconfigure the lot and reserve about 10 spots for tenants of upstairs apartments along West Milwaukee Street.
Some of those apartment dwellers now park on West Milwaukee Street all day or overnight, filling the few parking spots left in front of retail stores.
“That will help move apartment tenants away from the storefront retailers on the street, so they won’t take away from those storefront parking spots anymore. And come wintertime, they won’t have to be moving around for snow removal on the streets,” Paul Murphy said.
Well, it’s as close to presto as you might get along West Milwaukee Street, where property redevelopment and ongoing street projects have gobbled up dozens, if not hundreds, of public and private parking spots both on street and off the street.
Murphy said he’ll start by reserving a few stalls at 15 N. Jackson St. for his apartment tenants who live in units above an active retail storefront he owns in the 200 block of West Milwaukee Street.
Eventually, Murphy will lease out a half-dozen or so additional spots in the same lot to other apartment dwellers on the street.
The city owns an adjacent portion of the North Jackson Street lot. The boundary between the city’s portion and what is now Murphy’s is in the center of the lot, and for years that divide has remained empty and unused.
Murphy said he believes that section could fit at least 15 to 20 more parking spots if he and the city work together to “reconfigure” the space.
Emily Arthur, director of the city’s downtown Business Improvement District, is part of an ad hoc parking committee, a group of mostly retail business operators that advises the city on possible parking solutions.
Murphy does not sit on the parking committee, but Arthur said members are buzzing about the prospect of using that lot as a pressure-release valve for parking congestion on West Milwaukee Street.
Call it the butterfly effect of West Milwaukee Street parking.
“It’s nice when you have a property owner who you didn’t even have to ask about the topic of parking. They were already on it,” Arthur said. “We’re slowly starting to get there in different spots throughout downtown.”
Arthur said the committee now is focused on a survey of Rock River Charter School students and staff who use parking spots on West Milwaukee Street.
The Janesville School District operates the charter school out of the Kimball Educational Center, a building at 31 W. Milwaukee St. that was given to the district. Students and staff at one time parked in a public lot north of the school, but that lot now is the home of the 53-room Cobblestone Hotel, which is set to open soon.
Arthur said some spots on West Milwaukee Street are designated as two-hour parking, which is geared to make more parking available for customers of stores and businesses.
The charter school is the only school in the district that doesn’t have on-site parking.
“It’s a high number of students and staff at that school. We’re just wanting to figure out where everybody is parking to see if there is a better opportunity for them, or is it just that people don’t realize they could park farther out. They don’t understand that it’s impacting the businesses,” Arthur said.
Arthur said the availability of parking on West Milwaukee Street is becoming increasingly important as more storefront owners begin to rehab upstairs apartments. Meanwhile, five or six new retail businesses have opened or are opening soon along the street.
One business, a specialty cheesecake maker, bought a storefront in the 100 block of West Milwaukee Street. That business opens this fall, Arthur said.
Blackhawk Community Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf said her credit union hopes to reopen some of the dozens of private parking spots that have been cordoned off at the former Chase Bank property.
The credit union bought the bank last month and intends to rehab it as the future location of the Legacy Center, a museum-like facility honoring union autoworkers at Janesville’s former General Motors plant.
Stumpf said the lot eventually will be for Legacy Center visitors. But in the near term, she said, people patronizing businesses downtown will be allowed to use whatever spots the credit union can make available as crews rehab the building.
Murphy believes a growing number of local residents now own properties along West Milwaukee Street. He thinks that helps matters because local owners are more likely to key on shifting trends, such as how much parking is available, because they spend more time downtown than an absentee owner.
“You approach stuff differently than an out-of-town owner or a trust. You walk around and absorb things and see things and learn things. You’ve got skin in the game,” Murphy said.
“Call it self-serving, but if you’ve got a mortgage to pay on the building and you want to keep retail tenants and make sure they succeed, you’ve got to do things like acquire some parking and figure out how to use it so people can actually get into the storefronts.”