Most downtown businesses welcome assisted living project

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 7, 2008

As aldermen consider a proposal for an assisted living facility,potential neighbors of the downtown project welcomed the idea,although one business owner is voicing concerns over parkingavailability.

Developer Gayle Evans has asked the board about the possibilityof his building an assisted living center at the site of lastyear’s May 24 downtown fire, saying he will take whatever measuresnecessary to make the project agreeable with the city. Whenaldermen voiced concerns about parking, he offered to build parkingon the first floor of his proposed five-story building andpotentially buy another lot upon which to build more parking.

Joseph Fleming, of Just Kiddin’, said he worries that what hesees as an already crowded parking situation in downtown couldpotentially get worse if parking plans for the facility are nothandled just right. He said he has concerns that the possible 50-70additional residents to the downtown area could clog the businessdistrict.

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“We had problems with parking before,” he said. “How is Mr.Evans going to propose to put all that additional parking inwithout affecting downtown retail?”

However, Kay Burton of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce said an assisted living facility would absolutely impactthe business district, but with positive results.

“It definitely would impact the downtown businesses becausestatistics show that retirees buy 80 percent of their goodslocally, and if you’re increasing the downtown living population,that will definitely impact your business,” she said. “And Idefinitely think it would be a positive impact.”

State Bank’s Stan Foster said he hasn’t noticed a parking crisisin the downtown area.

“There are times when parking seems to be an issue in thedowntown area, but at the same time that’s a good thing,” he said.”It’s a lot better to have a lot of cars than not enough.”

Fleming said he sees bad things down the road for the downtownbusiness district if additional cars are brought into the downtownarea. He said it’s already hard enough to find a parking spot mostdays.

“If you choke the downtown like it’s becoming choked, instead ofshopping there, people will stay away,” he said. “(Just Kiddin’President) Christi (Fleming) and I feel we have a very goodbusiness, but the problem is how will I sell my goods when I haveno parking for customers?”

Fleming said that in talks with aldermen, he had been told thata lot of citizens said they were in favor of the project. But hebelieves it needed to be looked at from a different angle.

“People need to look outside the box,” he said. “Parking isalready choking out the downtown area, except for maybe the peoplein the outer part of downtown.”

Dr. Spencer Mooney of the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic said he’sonly had one complaint in all the years he’s had a business in thedowntown area. He pointed out there tends to be parking availablein the downtown area during most times of the day, even if it’s notdirectly in front of the store at which a customer is doing theirprimary shopping.

“People are used to being able to park five steps from thedoor,” he said. “And anywhere you park downtown, you’re still goingto be closer than some of the parking spots at Wal-Mart most of thetime.”

Brookhaven Cycle and Sport owner Shannon Knott said hisbusiness, which would be located directly next to the new facilityif it is built on the corner, doesn’t have parking problems at thistime, nor does he expect them.

“Parking’s not a problem because we have so many buildings emptydowntown, now that Factory Connection is gone, and Lofton’s,basically,” he said.

Foster said he believes the project is worth looking at, parkingsituation and all.

“I think anytime someone comes into your town and is willing tomake this type of investment in your community it’s worth lookingat,” he said.

Mooney agreed.

“It fills space in the downtown, and filled space is alwaysbetter than vacant space,” he said. “That’s a clean industry, andI’m in favor of having people and activity downtown.”

Burton pointed out that the additional residents could bringmore tax revenue to the city, as well. With Brookhaven being acertified retirement community, she said, it is in a prime positionto attract more people than cities that are not.

“We’re one of 21 in the state, this gives us people who movehere to invest their lives, and every couple that moves hereincreases our tax base by $7,500 a year – that’s a direct economicimpact,” she said.

Brookhaven has a desperate need for assisted living, Burtonsaid, so that seniors will not leave the city in search of it.

“To me that is a need – we have to be able to offer retireesquality residential living if they cannot live independently in ahome or a condo or apartment and they don’t want to go to a nursinghome,” she said.

Knott pointed out that any interest in the corner property is apositive thing and does not need to be overlooked.

“We’re already having trouble getting something on that corner,”he said. “If they do it right, I don’t think it would hurtanything.”

Foster said he has faith that city officials will make the rightchoice.

“There’s a need for assisted living, and we need to putsomething on that lot,” he said. “And I know the mayor and board ofaldermen are looking at that issue now. We’ve got the right groupof people looking at it and I trust their judgment.”