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Half of inner ring open for parking ... for the weekend
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MONROE -- Just in time for Friday's holiday shoppers, the north and west sides of the downtown Square's inner ring are open for parking.

Aldermen Keith Ingwell, Charles Schuringa and Den Henke, assisted by County Clerk Mike Doyle, took it upon themselves Wednesday to pull back the barricades that were preventing people from parking. They did so against the wishes of Mayor Ron Marsh and in response to business owners' demands. Schuringa said the mayor was notified of their intention to open the area to parking.

The parking area is not striped, which is why the city administration did not want it to be open until Monday.

City Engineer Supervisor Al Gerber and Tom Purdy of Fehr-Graham & Associates, the firm overseeing the Square streetscape project, said the inner ring's north and west lanes will be accessible to drivers through the weekend, then closed again at 5 a.m. Monday for final sealing and striping -- though that process depends on the weather.

"Terry (Hughes of project general contractor E&N Hughes Company) said they would seal the concrete when it was dry enough," said Barb Nelson, Monroe Main Street executive director.

Several business owners on the Square said they called Marsh's office Wednesday morning to ask for the inner ring to be opened. They didn't like the response they received.

"I called every city official and department head I could," said Chris Soukup, co-owner of Baumgartner Cheese Store and Tavern on 16th Avenue, on the Square's west side. "Basically, I was told no." He said city officials told him that until the ring's parking areas were striped, "there would be chaos ... or it would create problems with liability."

Soukup's brother and Baumgartner's co-owner, Tyler Soukup, said he urged other business owners to call the mayor if they felt the ring should be opened.

Julie Ula, owner of Julia's Bridal Gallery on 16th Avenue, said she called. Seeing the Square still closed is discouraging, she said, after anticipating construction would be finished by the end of October.

"With the way the economy is and the construction this summer, it took people away from the businesses down here," Ula said. "It was a rough summer."

She said parking spaces on the Square, including those where the blockades were pulled back, were full during Wednesday's lunch hour. She expects shoppers over the Thanksgiving weekend, especially for the special sales. But she said shoppers tell her they drive around the Square until they find a parking space because they are afraid to park even a block away.

"They aren't familiar with the Square and are afraid they'll get lost," Ula said. "The biggest loss is if they are from out of town."

Heather Thoman, owner of Europa Gift and Lace Shop on 16th Avenue didn't call the mayor Wednesday, but was "thankful somebody did something. The mayor should have done something."

She said "it's wrong" for the city to keep the sreet closed.

"People are not going to walk even two blocks. They'll leave," Thoman said. "This is a busy weekend for us. We don't need to suffer any more this year."

Other business owners, who didn't want to be identified, said they saw people parking in the inner ring already last Friday. When the movie "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," opened at the Goetz Theatre, the outer ring parking was full. Someone moved barricades and people parked on the inner ring, they said.

Cement was poured about a month ago on the north and west sides of the inner ring, and cured enough to withstand traffic. The south and east sides of the inner ring still are too soft to be driven on -- cement was poured Monday and Tuesday. Construction crews are waiting for one week for those to cure before sealing prior to striping.

The inner circle has about 94 parking spaces, about half of which will be open this weekend. There are about 112 spots along the outer ring of the Square.

"For liability reasons, it (inner ring) is officially closed," Gerber said. But parking is open on the north and west sides to support businesses, Purdy said.