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Parking being added to serve downtown Mystic

Mystic — With the summer tourist season just two weeks away, Mystic Seaport Museum and Chelsea Groton Bank plan to provide a total of 224 parking spots for downtown visitors.

Finding parking downtown has become an ever-increasing challenge, as the Town of Groton recently has approved the opening or expansion of a half-dozen restaurants that do not have their own dedicated parking lots. 

Until now there have been only two recent efforts to add parking, both by the Town of Stonington, where tourists often look to park along the neighborhood streets. The town added 13 spots along Cottrell Street by making it one-way and also has plans to create 30 to 40 spots at the Fourth District Voting Hall on Broadway. That lot will not be ready until the late summer or fall. Groton and Stonington officials also are working on creating paid on-street parking in the downtown.

This week, Mystic Seaport announced that it will make 200 spots in its south lot off of Route 27 available for nonmuseum visitors who will be able to take a 14-person shuttle bus to the downtown, while Chelsea Groton Bank will make 24 spots available in its two lots. Both parking operations will be run by LAZ Parking, which manages parking facilities in cities around the country. Payment will be digital through an app.

"The Seaport really stepped up to help keep cars out of the downtown. They have been amazing to partner with," Stonington First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough said Thursday.

Shannon McKenzie, the Seaport's vice president of museum operations, said space became available in the south lot when wood no longer needed to be stored there.   

"We have the space and opportunity to do this. It will very much be a trial year as we work with the Town of Stonington to alleviate the parking crunch downtown," she said Thursday.

It will cost $10 a day to park in the Seaport lot and then take the shuttle bus to a drop-off location on Holmes Street just south of Lis Bakery. The service is expected to begin Memorial Day weekend. Museum visitors and members still will be able to park for free in the north lot and other half of the south lot. 

"This is not a big money-making opportunity for us," McKenzie said. "It's about being a community partner."

She said that having visitors park in a shuttle lot, as they do in other tourist communities, will free up downtown parking for residents and employees. 

The shuttle initially will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but McKenzie said the times may be adjusted based on demand, such as extending hours later in the day if people are having dinner.

McKenzie said the museum also will continue to explore running a water taxi to the downtown but must find dock space to unload passengers.

Lori Dufficy, the executive vice president and chief experience and engagement officer for Chelsea Groton Bank, said the bank recently signed a contract with LAZ Parking to manage its upper and lower lots at 2 Water St. During banking hours the lots will be reserved for bank customers; when the bank is closed, visitors to downtown businesses will be able to park in the lots using the LAZ Text-to-Park technology, a cashless system that uses text messaging. The fees are still to be determined. The parking is expected to be available in about a week. 

Dufficy said the bank making the parking available is a way to be community-minded and support local merchants. She added the additional parking will help attract more visitors, who will be able to find more parking.  

She said the bank will be donating any profits from parking fees to the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce to be used with the Mystic Downtown Merchants Association to help fund events and initiatives.

"This is not for us to make money," she said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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