Lawrence Memorial Hospital leaders are exploring the idea of permanently closing a one block section of Arkansas Street to use the property for a parking lot.
Gene Meyer, president and chief executive of LMH, told the hospital's board of directors Wednesday that he has had preliminary discussion with city officials about closing the portion of Arkansas Street from Fourth Street to Third Street.
"We think it is a novel idea to address some of our parking issues, if our neighborhood is supportive of it," Meyer said. The hospital and the city own all the property on both sides of the one-block stretch, with the property on the west side of the street already serving as a hospital parking lot. Meyer said the plan would be to simply extend that parking lot into the street, which would add about 140 parking spaces.
He said that may allow the hospital to delay plans to build a single-story parking deck over the parking lot that is near the northwest corner of the hospital. That project had a cost of more than $2 million. A project using Arkansas Street could be closer to $300,000 to build, hospital officials said.
The street closure, though, could affect homeowners who live north of Third and Arkansas streets. There are about a dozen homes north of the intersection that would lose direct access to Fourth Street. Instead, those residents would have to travel on Third Street at least one block to the west before they could then go south to access Fourth Street.
At least some residents in the area, though, said they were willing to consider the change.
"It wouldn't be a big concern to me. I don't see too many people use that part of the road," said Daisy Hemming, who lives just north of where the road would be closed. She said she believed many residents already avoided the stretch of road, which is normally lined with cars, by traveling east on Third Street.
Any decision to close the road would have to be made by city commissioners. Interim City Manager David Corliss said the city hadn't received a formal request to close the road. He said any decision by the City Commission wouldn't happen until neighbors in the area had ample opportunity to comment on the idea.
"Neighborhood input would be extremely valuable," Corliss said.
Meyer said the hospital would hold a meeting with area residents before it ever made a formal request to the city. But Meyer said parking was becoming a scarcer commodity, and likely would become more difficult to find as construction on expansion projects begin at the hospital in coming years.
"We're already seeing a lot of on-street parking on Arkansas and Maine streets," Meyer said. "That's not just an inconvenience. There are also some safety concerns when you have people in the street."