Parking causes problems for downtown churches

Sunday, March 8, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — It was busy Sunday morning downtown as Pat and Ted Wills headed to church. The streets were full of people hoping to see one more film as part of the True/False Film Festival, and parking was at a premium.

But Pat Wills, 75, and her husband, Ted, 79, were not fazed. They parked on Eighth Street and headed toward the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts on their way to Calvary Episcopal Church, as they do every week.

The Willses have been members of the church at 123 S. Ninth St. for 15 years and have learned to make adjustments when downtown events crowd out the nearby parking spaces.

The couple usually walks a couple of blocks to attend church, a common event for  people who attend churches in downtown Columbia where parking spaces near the buildings are limited.

Similar to other landlocked houses of worship in downtown Columbia, Calvary Episcopal Church faces constant parking problems. It has 11 parking spots for its congregation of 220.

“Everybody is scrambling for parking,” said Laura Davidson, parish administrator. There is street parking available close to the church, she said, but overlapping morning services at the nearby Missouri United Methodist Church creates competition for these parking meters.

Davidson said parking limitations are even worse during the week.

“Sunday is a lot easier than finding parking on Wednesday,” she said. Church members use two city garages — located at Eighth and Cherry streets and Tenth and Cherry streets — which are relatively empty on Sunday mornings. On Wednesday nights, however, these garages are full of cars belonging to people bustling about MU or downtown shops and restaurants. Davidson said parking is especially problematic during festivals.

“It’s just something churches downtown have to deal with,” said Ed Rollins, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church at 1112 E. Broadway. He added football weekends to the list of times when it is challenging for members to find parking.

First Baptist Church has a 160-car parking lot behind its building. During the week, the lot is rented to Stephens College students and business people. On Saturday nights, it’s used by people partaking of Columbia's night life. Although most cars have been moved by Sunday morning, Rollins said there are occasionally a few vehicles still there. The lot also sees occasional traffic from members of the nearby Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 1115 E. Locust St.

Senior Pastor John Baker estimates that between 15 to 20 cars in the parking lot every Sunday do not belong to First Baptist members.

“Parking is something we take seriously,” he said. “Studies show that if people can’t find a parking space they will drive off.”

“Most people find parking,” Baker said. “Sometimes, we will lose somebody.”

Pedro Meza stood in the lobby of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and pointed out the heavy wooden doors to a parking lot across the street. The church owns the lot, which holds around 80 cars — enough spaces for about one-third of the parishioners who attend the Mass at 1 p.m. Sunday. Other patrons park along Waugh and Locust streets.

Inside the sanctuary, the pews are so full that some people listen to the sermon from the lobby. Meza said Sacred Heart’s afternoon Spanish-language Mass has grown about 20 percent in the past few months. He worries that if the congregation continues to grow, members will have nowhere to park.

First Presbyterian Church at 16 S. Hitt St. is currently expanding its building but not its parking. Construction is expected to be finished later this month. Although Chrissy Jones, executive administrative assistant, said she expects the congregation to grow with the new building, a lack of parking is not something she worries about. The church owns 75 parking spaces,  but there is a city garage across the street allowing members easy access.

“It’s pretty convenient for us,” Jones said of the Tenth and Cherry streets parking structure that has space for 276 vehicles. Combined with the church’s lots and the on-street meters along Broadway, Hitt and Cherry streets, Jones does not imagine the church would ever run out of parking space for its 300 members who attend on Sunday mornings.

“That would be a nice problem to have,” she said.


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