As far back as October 2020, Hattiesburg officials have been discussing installing parklets – parking spaces in rights-of-way or in front of businesses that are converted to spaces for pedestrians – in the downtown area.
Now that concept is being put into place, with a parklet currently being constructed for outdoor dining in the area in front of Southbound Bagel & Coffee Shop and Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris on Front Street. The notice to proceed on the parklet was issued earlier this month, and the process should take approximately 90 days.
“That area has been functioning as a parklet since 2020, when we blocked off two parking spaces in front of Southbound Bagel for that purpose,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “For this, we’ll permanently convert those two spaces to outdoor seating, as well as transition that sidewalk in front of Southbound to one that is (American with Disabilities Act) compliant.”
Small beautification items, including some planters and lighting, also will be installed at the parklet.
“Really, it’s about creating a place that’s level, where people can congregate and have their meal, and do so in a way that’s accessible to all users,” Barker said.
Parklets typically extend out from the sidewalk at the level of the sidewalk to the width of the adjacent parking space, and offer a place to stop, sit and rest while taking in the surrounding activities. Parklets also may accommodate bicycle parking, greenery, art or other visual amenities.
San Francisco has been credited with introducing the first parklet. The first one-day parking installation was created in that city’s downtown in 2005 as an unofficial activist project by feeding a parking meter with coins, unrolling grass sod and placing a potted tree on top.
“I think it’s one of those progressive things that we should absolutely be looking at,” Barker said. “When we first opened dining back up after the shutdown (caused by COVID-19), we first allowed outdoor dining.
“We said that if restaurants wanted to go and convert some parking spaces into outdoor dining areas, that would be okay. This is a more permanent way of doing that, so we look at if a certain place is suitable for that, and how we as a city partner with the individual restaurant to figure out what is the safest, most attractive way we can make these things happen.”
During a 2020 Hattiesburg City Council meeting, Mary Dryden – who then represented Ward 4 on council – said she had recently seen the parklet concept in Park City, Utah, and she agreed it would be a good idea for Hattiesburg.
“The way that it works there is they close the downtown streets only on the weekend, and some of the parklets stay, but a lot of them are just temporary,” she said. “It was amazing, and all of these people were so enjoying being outside; it really works well, and I was thrilled with the concept.
“I would love to see our downtown streets closed like every Saturday, for a long enough period of time for people to get in the habit of coming to downtown and knowing they can count on businesses being open. Anything that encourages that is a good thing to see.”
Barker said Congress Street in Jackson has a good model of parklets, and he thinks areas like downtown and Mobile Street would be a nice fit for the concept.
“Those are ripe for us to try new things like this, because that sets a good city apart from others,” he said. “We’re thinking forward.”