With a thriving downtown, complete with more businesses, more living areas, more dining and more entertainment, what people realize is that what Conway will need next — and what it may already need — is more parking. It is an issue that has not escaped the thoughts of Conway Chamber CEO Brad Lacy. He has called it the most important issue of 2013.

Log Cabin Democrat: Where do we stand at this point when it comes to planning for parking and traffic options in downtown as well as other parts of Conway?

Brad Lacy: With something as specific as a parking deck, you can make one of two mistakes. You can build too early or too late. Too early can mean a financial drain and an empty parking deck. Too late, and you could lose investment that would go to somewhere else. It’s not just relevant to downtown either. There are various spots of the city that will require a good hard look at structured parking options.

LCD: So we need to be concerned about other areas of the city?

BL: You see the community becoming denser and there are other areas that will benefit from structured parking. You are going to run out of land at some point. Now is the right time to deal with this.

LCD: What have you seen that brings you to this conclusion?

BL: If you just drive around and look, you see it’s a challenge. We know about new businesses in the area like Inuvo and Privacystar and their growth plans. Where will these employees park? What about other new businesses that are looking at this area. We do not want to force them to choose another option.

LCD: And then there is downtown housing.

BL: Yes. We have seen that there is a big desire for more housing downtown. But let’s say there is a 300-unit building. Those people are going to have cars.

LCD: So are we still at a dream phase or are we in an action phase?

BL: We need to identify the potential sites, and we have to pursue financial commitments as well as a plan to have policing from businesses. But we definitely need to be pushing forward with solutions at this point.

LCD: Are we committed to a deck or to decks? Is surface parking still an option?

BL: I don’t think you can just have surface. You won’t be able to see additional development. There could be the potential for a downtown hotel, but I am not sure the hotel would bring its own deck without some sort of cooperation.

LCD: What research has been done looking at other places to see what works and what doesn’t work?

BL: Actually, we spoke with Franklin, Tenn., and their parking is free. We also saw how Greenville, S.C. does it, and it’s paid. And they both work. We just need to find out what is right for Conway.

LCD: Who needs to be the first to step up and get the ball rolling?

BL: There needs to be a consortium of efforts, but I do think it must be led by the city. I just don’t see a private individual building a deck. I think potential development could possibly hinge on it, and once we’ve gotten past that point, the dominoes can begin to fall, and we will start to see a natural progression of future development.

LCD: Is there a spot that would be deemed right?

BL: There may not be a spot that’s perfect, but we need to remember that if it’s too far out from the core, we could lose a lot of potential users. We really need to be as close to the heart of Oak and Main for people to want to use it. Either way, this needs to be front and center in the coming year.