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St. Armands merchants in uproar over paid parking disparity

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to imposing paid parking within the city limits.

The Sarasota City Commission was told it would be irresponsible and unconscionable to install paid parking on St. Armands Circle and not in downtown Sarasota at the same time.

The conundrum came to a head last week at a city commission meeting when St. Armands merchants protested the plan by City Staff to initiate paid parking at both the parking garage under construction as well as in the to-be-metered spaces along the circle by the end of the year. City Staff including City Manager Tom Barwin, and Parking Manager Mark Lyons, have made it clear  that the paid parking program was voted on by the commission to support and help pay for the $17.5 million in bonds to cover the cost of the new public garage under construction in the parking lot on North Adams Drive next to the Fire Station. That garage is slated to open in December.

At the meeting last week, Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said she was against parking meters downtown as well as on St. Armands Circle and said she never voted or supported that proposal. Commissioner Hagen Brody also was against the plan for downtown parking, part of the dilemma for the City is the Parking Department has run nearly a $250,000 shortfall this year and the losses will be almost double that by the end of 2020. The expenses associated with the garages are what is driving the deficits according to the City.

At the meeting, the discussion then turned to whether the city should raise taxes to help subsidize the deficits associated with the parking garages.

The commission also asked Barwin to bring back more information about a pilot meter program for downtown and Barwin said staff would also analyze if there could be an alternative to paid parking at St. Armands.

The conundrum centers on paying for, and maintaining the costly garages, which the City Commission deemed necessary to relieve traffic and parking congestion both downtown and on St. Armands Circle.  The cost of funding the bonds and for maintenance was predicated in part on paid parking revenue generated not only from the garages but street metering. If those revenues are not collected, then taxes become the most likely option, which is politically unpopular with the commissioners. That has left staff struggling for solutions.

The 2016 paid meter plan for Main Street and South Palm Avenue was predicated on charging $1.50 per hour for parking and would generate about $478,000 per year. Currently, the downtown garages are free for the first three hours of parking and the City Parking Department has presented the idea of reducing the free time to one or two hours.

The Parking Department and Lyons have stated that parking meters encourage turnover which is good for merchants and that their fears are “anecdotal.”

Barwin and staff are due to come back to the commission with additional proposals for both St. Armands Circle as well as downtown.

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5 Responses for “St. Armands merchants in uproar over paid parking disparity”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    St. Armands Circle is a money maker for the City as it produces sales tax revenue. Put in parking meters which is another tax on both patrons and workers and both will go elsewhere to shop, dine and work, leaving a big hole in sales tax collections; and later when businesses leave, less revenue from Real Estate taxes. The City Commissioners should see the garage at St Armands as a sales tax generator and not as a means of increasing revenue for the City.

  2. Bibi G. Bushell says:

    If the goal is to shop and dine, which seems to be the focal point of St. Armand’s, then surely a reasonable parking fee is warranted–think of it as part of the spending package. As for those who work on St. Armand’s, there should be an agreement between merchants and the Parking Authority as to how to alleviate the burden of payment for those persons.
    The next question is, ” What is a reasonable fee?”
    By comparing rates at other garages/municipalites–whether fixed or sliding– a fee structure could be enacted that will not deter visitors from using the parking garage. The ultimate goal should be to encourage parking in the garage in order to alleviate traffic jams caused by searching for free, off-street parking.
    Prohibiting parking in the circle would decidedly be an important restriction leading to safer and more efficient flow of traffic around and out.
    A parking garage has been sorely needed for years. Parking fees are universally used and not uncommon.

  3. Kathy Wehrfritz says:

    Last week I received a $25 ticket for parking for more than three hours. Yes during that time we dined, shopped and had a spa treatment. Paid in less than 24 hours and received a $3.50 fine. We own a condo in LBK. Pay property taxes and a monthly maintence fee. Guess they do not want you to enjoy St Armand Circle Having owned a condo for more than 13 years this is a complete outrage. There were MANY MANY empty spots in October What is their objective Yes we spent more than 3 hours but during our extended time plus paid sales tax Absolute craziness. Guess we take our dining and business else where

  4. Judith Berson says:

    I do not think we should have to pay for parking on Armand Circle or Downtown. It will cut down on length of time shoppers stay while shopping and eating. Plus why punish the customers and merchants for going over the budget. The devoplmer and town officials didn’t do their jobs well. I was an officer of a REIT and our budgets came in on time and on budget. I also.thank you for asking for our comments and listening to them. Sincerely, Judith Berson

  5. Keith Preston says:

    In the UK we have the same parking predicaments in similar situations. By utilising “Pay and Display” systems we have the necessary flexibility. This means paying at a kerbside machine situation at convenient points, to get a ticket to display inside the car.
    This allows, for example, for 30 minutes free parking where there are limited spaces, such as St Armands, with the option to purchase 1-3 hours. To encourage users to use the car park we can have 1 hour free then an option to pay for longer. Disabled bays are free. It means that short trips are kept free while the majority pay for longer.
    The whole system is easy to install and run and achieves all the objectives of use and money raising.

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