At a meeting last month, members of the city’s Downtown Improvement District showed that paid parking is still a sore subject in Sarasota, coming out strongly against its potential return in the near future.
Today, the board revisited that conversation, with Parking Manager Mark Lyons presenting background information on the city’s forthcoming parking strategic plan. Lyons has been working with the city’s Parking Advisory Committee to formulate a comprehensive parking management plan for Sarasota, which he hopes to have ready for presentation within two months.
At an April DID meeting, board member Eileen Hampshire — also a member of the Parking Advisory Committee — mentioned that paid parking could soon return as part of the strategic plan. In response, the DID voted to recommend against considering the reinstitution of paid parking for at least two years.
During today’s meeting, the group’s stance softened a bit. Still, board members made clear that the Mall at University Town Center, scheduled to open in October, poses a serious threat in their eyes. If paid parking is instituted in the wrong way or at the wrong time, they said, they fear that customers will flock to the mall instead of downtown.
“I think that would rattle the general public a little too much, given what's coming at us,” DID member Tom Mannausa said.
Lyons explained the principles behind potentially reintroducing paid parking to Sarasota. He said that previous parking meter failures were based on implementation; with the parking division now focusing on best practices in other cities, they would have a better strategy to reintroduce paid parking.
He also said that, despite the negative perception of the previous paid parking program, the meters were at about a 70% acceptance rate among surveyed users. Even with the meters in place, Lyons said, the on-street occupancy rate was averaging around 95%.
“I would maintain paid parking doesn't drive anyone away — it provides an opportunity for people to come and park,” Lyons said. “When these spaces are full, people decide they want to move on.”
Any paid parking program would focus first on prime spaces where the city would like to encourage turnover, Lyons said. Parking Advisory Committee Chairman Chris Gallagher said he was interested in finding a cluster of merchants that wanted paid parking installed along their block to serve as some of the initial implementation areas. In return, those merchants could benefit from the funds generated by the meters in the form of something like enhanced landscaping.
DID member Mark Kauffman said the group didn’t want anything done simultaneously with the mall, but that six months later, it might be appropriate to apply the things Lyons was talking about. He wanted the city to encourage parking in the garages by keeping them free to park for several hours, and for any program to be brought along deliberately so citizens could get used to the new system.
“It will come — there's no question it's going to come,” Kauffman said about paid parking. “It has to be brought along slowly.”
Lyons stood behind the principles of paid parking, but agreed that the city needed to be careful about installing whatever comes out of the parking strategic plan.
“We need to take our time in implementing it,” Lyons said.
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