HARLINGEN — In front of her salon, Sandra Aguinaga is losing parking spaces — and she thinks that might cost her some customers.
Along East Jackson Street’s busy westernmost block, Aguinaga and some downtown shop owners worry about the future of their businesses.
Just outside the door of Aguinaga’s Southern Beauty Spa and Salon, the city is converting five parking spaces into two parking stalls and two handicapped stalls that will include a ramp for future tenants of Baxter Lofts, a 24-unit, largely low-income high-rise apartment development expected to be completed in April or May 2019.
“As it is, parking is so hard around here and they’re making it even harder on us and our clients,” Aguinaga said yesterday. “There are clients who don’t want to deal with parking so they go somewhere else. Just this morning I drove around three times just to find a place to park.”
Across the street, Honey Bee’s boutique also stands to lose customers, owner Mary Coronado said.
“It’s going to affect our business most definitely,” she said. “I see it badly damaging for businesses.”
Meanwhile, construction of the new parking spaces is expected to continue for about two weeks, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez said.
Aguinaga wants to know why the city did not install the two handicapped stalls at Baxter Lofts off A Street.
“I don’t know why they don’t do it in front of the building,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
At Carlito’s Wine House, owner Carlos Betancourt said the city turned down his request for a handicapped parking spot.
“I requested handicapped parking — one spot for my guests. They said there was no need,” Betancourt said, noting it will take months to complete the Baxter Lofts renovation.
“Now, all of a sudden there’s an urgency for handicapped parking.”
At City Hall, Sanchez said the two handicapped stalls and ramp are part of the Baxter Lofts architectural plan.
Peggy Allen believes the city should make parking available to handicapped drivers.
“I know our customers will complain occasionally that they have to walk two blocks down to get to us and there are times I have to park a little ways away,” Allen, owner of House of Frames, said. “I think the city is probably doing a good thing providing the spaces.”
Meanwhile, Sanchez said there is enough parking to serve the shops along the Jackson Street business district.
The city conducted a traffic study that shows 2,225 parking spaces within about a six-block radius of the Jackson Street area, including 888 street-side stalls, he said.
But many shop owners said some customers are concerned about walking alone to a parking space a couple of blocks away.
Some worry about crime, Aguinaga said.
“My ladies don’t want to walk two blocks by themselves,” Coronado said of her customers.
Some shop owners are counting on the city to turn Lozano Park, a pocket park located in front of Baxter Lofts, into a small parking lot.
“That’s not going to happen,” Sanchez said.
Like Aguinaga, many shop owners believe city leaders failed to provide adequate parking for Baxter Lofts.
“They should have thought about us,” she said. “They should have thought about it better. It was a big investment to come here with the hopes it all turns out for me.”
In late 2015, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board agreed to sell the iconic nine-story Baxter Building for $250,000 to Kansas City, Kan., developers MRE Capital, contingent on the firm’s success in clinching $3.3 million in federal tax credits to help fund the building’s $4.5 million renovation.
Along the downtown area, shop owners are waiting for tenants to move into Baxter Lofts.
Sanchez said tenants can park at Centennial Park, a city-owned parking lot with 59 stalls at West Street and Jackson Avenue.
But many shop owners do not believe tenants will walk across Commerce Street to that parking lot.
Coronado said she will decide whether to keep her shop open after Baxter Lofts fills its 24 apartments.
Along Jackson Street, many merchants have heavily invested to turn the old buildings into stylish shops.
“Had I known this was going to happen three years ago when I opened my business, it would have been a huge factor in whether I would move to the downtown,” Coronado said. “I have to make a lot of decisions in the next year. It’s a big play on my heart right now.”
However, Betancourt is counting on Baxter Lofts’ tenants to bring in new business.
“I’m in favor of the apartments,” he said. “I think it’s going to help my business.”