Paid parking seems destined to return to downtown in 2017, but merchants are still mobilizing against meters on Main Street.
If everything goes according to plan, Sarasota residents will be using parking meters downtown as soon as next month.
Don’t panic — when the parking meters first hit the streets, it’ll just be for research purposes. The city is in the process of reviewing parking meter vendors. To avoid hardware issues, staff wants to let the public interact with the products before choosing a model.
Still, at some point in 2017, the city intends to implement a paid parking program in the downtown core. City Parking Manager Mark Lyons hopes to have meters installed by September.
“I think it’d be easier to do it in the summer when there’s a little less activity,” Lyons said. “It’s designed to be in the areas that are most impacted by heavy traffic anyway, which stay busy in the summer.”
Although city officials have given preliminary blessings to the return of paid parking, it’s not a certainty.
The Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association has begun organizing opposition to the meters. Ron Soto, president of the merchants group, said downtown businesses were exploring legal action against the city.
City Attorney Robert Fournier has dismissed that threat, but merchants will also work to lobby commissioners against paid parking. A SDMA survey of 132 businesses showed 84% oppose paid parking.
“I do not understand how the City Commission can ignore the loud pleas, the wisdom, the thoughts and the previous experiences that have been shared,” said Chip Beeman, owner of Pastry Art Café and Main Bar Sandwich Shop.
That opposition is colored by the city’s last attempt to implement paid parking, a short-lived effort that saw meters installed in 2010 and removed by 2011. Lyons said he is confident this paid parking program and will be more effective.
The city is also finalizing a contract with a contractor and architect for a 521-space parking garage on St. Armands Circle. The City Commission will review those contracts later this month.
In 2017, work on that project includes producing designs and securing a bond. Construction is expected to begin in early 2018.