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$17.5 million the cost to remedy St. Armands Circle parking woes; City debates chances of taxpayers footing bill

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The Sarasota City Commission while discussing how to pay for a $17.5 million parking plan for St. Armands Circle, brushed against a familiar adage in public policy; something could go wrong.

The expenditure includes a $12 million parking garage to be located behind the Columbia Restaurant, burying power lines on John Ringling Boulevard and creating three zones of paid parking around and on St. Armands Circle.

The meeting began on Monday with the City Financial Director and bond representatives giving the good news: that the cost to borrow money has gone down because of the improvement in bond ratings for the City of Sarasota. But the tone of the conversation quickly changed when Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch repeatedly asked if the taxpayers and the General Fund could eventually end up paying for a chunk of the project.

“Suppose parking revenues from the garage and the parking meters do not come in at all; besides the General Fund what are our options?

The City plans to charge between 50 cents and $1.50 per hour to park in the paid parking zones and along the Circle, and 50 cents per hour to park in the new garage.

The bond counsel assured Ahearn-Koch that the estimates for parking revenue were very reliable and that there is even a built-in cushion, however, there were a couple of options.

“Our study was from 2015, and has provided an additional cushion. However, if necessary, you could charge more (money) for parking depending on the time of day…If it’s still not enough, then you can borrow out of the General Fund and repay it,” said bond counsel Duane Draper.

But the assurance from Draper was not entirely convincing for Ahearn-Koch, and she asked her question again, based on the fact that the City of Sarasota several years ago had placed parking meters downtown and then had to remove them.

“I’m not dooming this to fail, because I know it’s already decided, but this has happened before downtown. Is our only option the General Fund or to raise the revenue source?” said Ahearn-Koch.

Draper replied, “You won’t be able to take a new action to raise revenues until the bonds are paid off.”

Ultimately, it was clear that the General Fund and taxpayers would end up paying if any shortfall occurs.

Before the Commission voted to approve the bond language, Commissioner Hagen Brody asked Strickland to explain again the way the city is paying for the parking garage.

Strickland said it was based on two factors. First, the businesses on St. Armands will pay $260,000 per year for 20 years through a special taxing district to offset part of the bond costs. And the second part of how the bonds will be paid is based on the assumption of revenues that will be generated through the installation of parking meters along the Circle as well as the fees collected by the users of the new parking garage. Strickland said she is confident the city can pay for the garage with the revenues and repay the bond.

At the end of the discussion, four of the five City Commissioners voted 4-1 in support of the bond language with Mayor Freeland Eddie dissenting.

 

Parking history

The plan to build the four-story, 500 space parking garage was approved over the past two years. It’s genesis was the complaint of St. Armands Circle businesses who have stated that the current two and three hour parking spaces along the Circle and the limited parking in various lots behind the Circle have placed a stranglehold on business. Additionally, when special events occur – which they do on a regular basis – cars are parked haphazardly in the grass median that extends all the way from St. Armands Circle to the Ringling Bridge.

With the bond language approved, the next action will be moving forward with hiring a contractor and construction.

Construction is expected to begin on the parking garage in Spring of 2018.

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1 Response for “$17.5 million the cost to remedy St. Armands Circle parking woes; City debates chances of taxpayers footing bill”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    What happens if the tourists and locals go shop and dine elsewhere to avoid the parking meters and garage charge as they did when the meters were last installed on Main St?

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