Downtown Auburn is growing day by day, thanks to new student housing, parking structures and road construction, and people are talking about it.
“With growth comes change,” said Jon Hyink, president of the Downtown Merchants Association and owner of 1716 and Southeastern. “It is inevitable. Everyone is going to have an opinion on what they like and they don’t in terms of the new buildings and redevelopment going on. Our town has a lot of very smart, loyal and energetic people that truly love this town. I think everyone wants what is best for Auburn, and sometimes it is very difficult to get everyone’s opinion going in the same direction.”
Kasha Walters, general manager of The Hound, admitted that while construction may not be desirable, she understands why it’s necessary.
“We know what the endgame is here, and we see the progress that’s happening and what could be and how many people could be living within a couple blocks of our business and the new retail that could be coming in,” Walters said.
However, Facebook is crawling with criticism from residents, and Jessica Kohn, downtown coordinator for the Auburn Downtown Merchants Association, said it’s unfortunate.
“The merchants aren’t facing a physical obstacle from the construction. What they’re facing is somebody’s opinion now of downtown Auburn,” she said. “People now say, ‘Oh well, the aesthetic has changed so much, I’m not coming down there anymore.’ And I say all the time: ‘That’s not fair to our downtown merchants. That’s not fair to them. Just because the (aesthetic is) changing that doesn’t mean that these businesses don’t still need your support, because they do.’”
ParkingOne of the other issues that downtown Auburn is facing is parking. People have had trouble finding a place to park when shopping in recent years.
“There’s always going to be people who are upset or frustrated, and I get that, but I also think that it’s getting better,” Walters said. “We’re doing things as a city to make progress so that there is parking available for customers and for employees.”
Part of the emerging solution has been that student housing developments providing their own parking, Kohn said. The street-level businesses housed in these developments also have their own parking as well.
“So I don’t think that we’re going to see these new developments decrease our parking options, if anything it could increase our parking options because, like I said, there’s now retail spaces located inside these new developments,” she said.
New parking decks are being built around Auburn. There is one at the Hotel at Auburn University, with another to go up at adevelopment on West Magnolia and a third at the former Baptist Student Union location.
Not all of these, however, are used for downtown parking.
“I do think that our parking problems have been resolved,” Kohn said. “So at this point, do I think we need the parking deck? Honestly, I don’t think so. And that’s just because I think that the city’s already done a great job in the last year of increasing the amount of parking options.”
The city of Auburn has also started adding more restrictions, Kohn said. For instance, while parking used to cost 25 cents at a four-hour limit, it now costs $1 at a two-hour limit.
“That’s actually allowed for quicker turnover,” Kohn said.
Walters said that these new parking restrictions have helped The Hound, which sits next to the municipal parking deck.
“On a regular Tuesday, on a regular week in downtown Auburn, there is parking available in that municipal parking deck and so I see where we’re making changes to help parking become more available,” she said.
The extra parking will be useful during football season and events, Kohn said. During football season, parking rules often go out the window. People park on curbs, in the grass, anywhere they can find a spot.
“Because of the nature of where downtown Auburn is and because we see such a heavier traffic flow during the fall months, I do feel that the downtown parking deck is still a smart decision, it’s still going to accommodate all those extra visitors that we see in football season,” Kohn said.
Hyink said that people will go back and forth on this issue, as they have for years.
“My opinion is that parking can be hard at times because people are wanting to be in downtown and are spending more time in downtown than ever before,” he said. “I am excited for the new parking deck that is going to be built on Wright Street. I think it will help bring even more people downtown.”
Change isn’t always bad
Kohn doesn’t think all of the new development has changed what Auburn has always been. She hopes that people can come to appreciate all the new shops and businesses opening downtown.
“If you don’t like the taller buildings, let’s focus on maybe what you do love about downtown,” she said. “And I think what so many people love about downtown are the quaint local shops and eateries, but if you don’t support them then they’re not going to stay in business. And that’s unfortunate and then we really will struggle with an aesthetic in downtown.”
“There’s growth, there’s energy, there’s fantastic locally ran businesses down here and I really feel that downtown Auburn is kind of why people fall in (love with Auburn),” Walters said.
Hyink believes that downtown is as popular as it’s ever been, and he said business is thriving, in part due to the variety of different businesses now in place.
“The business owners and their staffs are a huge part in to what makes downtown a great place to come, visit, shop and eat,” he said. “They work tirelessly to provide goods and services that attract a wide array of customers. They continue to invest their time and money back into downtown to keep it vibrant and a place where people want to come visit.”