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Wake Forest needs more downtown parking. But where?

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WAKE FOREST — An assessment of the town’s downtown parking availability found more than 200 new parking spaces may be needed as more businesses and apartments come to the area.

Wake Forest leaders said last week they are interested in finding a way to add more parking downtown and acknowledged that doing so comes at a cost, as the town would likely need to buy land to make public parking available.

What wasn’t clear is where that parking would be.

“I think we should certainly include parking, a parking facility, along with the SunTrust,” said Mayor Vivian Jones at the Board of Commissioner’s Nov. 7 work meeting. Jones was referring to the former SunTrust building on South White Street, which the town bought last year in order to control the development that happens on the site.

“We own that land already” Jones said. “That means we don’t have to buy another piece of land. It looks like it would be the appropriate place to put a parking facility if we are going to build a parking facility.”

In response, Lisa Hayes, the town’s downtown development director, said a parking garage on that property will likely be dedicated to residential and retail parking for the site’s new development. Any developer likely won’t be interested in making room for public parking on the site, she said.

“If that is the case, are you interested in adding additional public parking again at additional cost to the town?” Hayes asked the board.

“Well, I think we have to address the parking,” Jones answered.

The mayor and commissioners were discussing the results of a parking assessment conducted by Ramey Kemp & Associates in September. The assessment determined that of the 543 downtown parking spaces, up to 307 (about 57 percent) were filled during peak hours on weekdays. Weekend use peaked Saturday evenings with about 45 percent of spaces filled.

During Friday Night on White events, available downtown lots are at 97 percent capacity, and the event only has enough parking due to a partnership between the town and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for use of their private parking lots.

In the coming years, demand for parking downtown will grow, the assessment found. It estimated demand for parking during Friday Night on White could go up by 25 percent. Planned and expected development — including Norse Brewing Company, Smoky Tony’s, Powerhouse Row and new hires made a town hall — could require hundreds of new parking spaces while only adding a few dozen.

Nate Bouquin, a traffic associate with Ramey Kemp & Associates, said he recommended the town add 223 parking spaces to keep up with demand.

Hayes told commissioners town officials will be coming up with proposals, will discuss those ideas with small groups and will come back to the board with recommendations.