When I saw the “For Lease” signs posted at the corner of Summit Hill and Central Street, my first inclination was to be pleased: That’s a terrible use for that corner. As the most prominent entrance to the Old City, a diner and a very large car lot is not the best face to put on it. Compound that with the surface parking lot across the street and it gets even worse. As the closest connecting point to the “uptown” section of the center city, it doesn’t exactly encourage people to take that walk down the hill.
My second thought, however, was a bit of regret. The capacity to rent a car seems like a near necessary amenity for a city. Sure, we have Uber and Zipcar and those are useful in particular situations. But sometimes any number of us need to rent a vehicle for a longer trip or of a certain size and so on. I really like the option of walking to rent a car while leaving my car in it’s normal spot. Additionally, visitors to the city would likely need to rent a car and having it conveniently located is an asset.
So, I stopped in and talked to Greg King, one of the managers, and the person who helped me last time I needed to rent a vehicle. He’s a dependably friendly face no matter the circumstances. He was great with helping me and I’ve seen him deal with difficult customers with calm grace. I asked him what is happening. What I found out is a win for everyone.
Enterprise will soon move to the single commercial space in the Walnut Street Garage. The intended opening date at the new location is October 28. Greg tells me that all the rental cars will be housed inside the garage and the operations should be more efficient through the new store-front with a better organized space for patron interactions and new computer systems supporting the transactions. He said the only thing they are moving are their chairs.
And I think this is a big win for proper urban land use. Sure, the management of the garage wins by filling a storefront and some spaces inside the garage with paying clients. Good for them. But to move what is essentially a car lot out of sight in the city is a good thing. Utilizing the garage, now that we have it, is a good thing, as well. I wish I’d thought of it and I don’t know why I didn’t. I’ve rented cars in cities from garages and I bet some of you have, too.
Hopefully, it is an indication that the land space downtown is becoming too valuable to be covered with a surface parking lot. Perhaps economics will begin dictating better land use and urban design. Or it could simply be that Enterprise felt that was a better long-term plan for their business model.
The next question will be what happens on that corner. Yes, I remember it being a diner and no, I do not believe that’s its best purpose. It’s prominent, as I mentioned, and important. No doubt it once held a building and probably a substantial one. With the proposal to remove the small, dilapidated buildings at the corner of Willow and Central replace them with a substantial, well-designed and multi-use building seems to be the right model. The corner could easily support a five or more story building and not look out-of-scale with buildings along the southern side of Summit Hill just west of this site.
Are we ready for that? I’m not sure. We are clearly beginning the process of returning parking lots to buildings, but how fast that will escalate, I have no idea. But I know I would love to see it happen on this particular corner as much as any other place downtown. Now, does someone out there have a vision and the financing or money to make it happen?