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Downtown church members ask about parking relief

Cars left on the street overnight are causing concern from downtown churchgoers in Columbia.

Greg Cecil is a member of the Downtown Parking Task Force. He’s representing the interests of several places of worship in the area, as a 30-year member of the Missouri United Methodist Church. The task force spent the first part of its Wednesday meeting discussing the issue, as places of worship struggle to find adequate parking for all of its congregation on a given day.

Cecil and members of other churches said at the meeting that Saturday overnight street parking caused the greatest problem for its members. The city does not enforce parking meters on Sundays, meaning many people leave their cars in the street spaces as they leave, or live, downtown. For MUM, Cecil said the University of Missouri allows members to park in the Hitt Street Garage just a block south, but the church needs to run a shuttle service for members that have a hard time walking.

“Many times, folks will say, ‘Just walk a little farther.’ I’m OK with that, but some of our members are 80 years old,” Cecil told ABC 17 News. “We want to make it convenient for them to attend their church, and we don’t want people to leave our church, or churches downtown, because people can’t find a place to park.”

MUM is one of a few that owns its own parking lot, holding around 50 cars. Places like the Islamic Center on Fifth Street also use a mix of onsite parking and street parking for its members. A map provided by the city shows approximately 154 metered spaces in a five-by-three block area near the church. MUM said its two Sunday services alone from 8 to 10 a.m. draw 400 people, and estimates its attendance throughout the week in the fall lands around 1,900 people.

“They may stay and shop, they may stay and have lunch, they may stay and have dinner,” Cecil said.

MUM owns the whole east block of Ninth Street, between Elm and Locust Streets. For the last year, it has served as neighbor to multi-story apartment complex construction – first the Brookside location at Ninth and Elm, and now the 10-story Rise on 9th, at the Locust St. corner. Both projects have eliminated many metered spaces near that church, Calvary Episcopal Church and the First Presbyterian Church further east on Hitt St. Developers pay the city for those parking spots, usually for the cost of using the meter all day, from Monday to Saturday. Cecil said due to the parking constraints around churches, some members have resorted to parking in the “bagged” spaces near construction sites, since the city does not enforce parking restrictions on Sundays.

While Columbia does plan to expand the methods in which people can pay for a meter soon, parking engineer Richard Stone told a different Columbia committee on Tuesday they did not have a set plan to expand the parking system downtown anytime soon.

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