Pat Westerhouse, a member of the Downtown Improvement District and manager at Castco Properties, which owns the Whole Foods complex from Lemon Avenue to Central Avenue, has proposed funding a free downtown valet service with $10,000 in DID money.
The service could use the garage that sits under the 100 Central condominium tower on First Street or other parking lots or garages. Both the city of Sarasota and the 100 Central Condominium Association, which has exclusive access rights that begin on the fourth floor of the garage, manage the 100 Central garage.
“One of our priorities is parking control, and our parking garage is a mixture of both public and residential,” Westerhouse said. “I am interested to see if a valet service is something the DID would be willing to fund.”
Westerhouse said that one of the valet companies that has gotten back to her has proposed a $15 per hour service for Thursday, Friday and Saturday night service. Saturday service during the day is also being considered.
Westerhouse stressed the proposal would need to be tested.
“I don’t want to create a valet service that isn’t utilized,” Westerhouse said. “It’s a high risk to start, but if it takes off, the company might perform the service just for tips, if it’s successful.”
DID Chairman Ernie Ritz and others said they were open to the idea but hesitant of the $10,000 price tag.
“I like the idea, but not being on the hook for $10,000,” Ritz said.
Westerhouse said she was waiting to hear back from another valet company.
Senior planner Steve Stancel suggested Westerhouse also contact the Sarasota Opera House and The Bijou Café, which already utilize a valet service for customers.
“You might want to see if they would be open to helping create a more centralized concept,” Stancel said.
Westerhouse received direction to update the board at the next meeting on her progress.
In the meantime, the discussion led to the formation of a Downtown Activities Committee, which will meet to provide input at a May 4 commission workshop on downtown events.
“The commission and staff have received some complaints about some events downtown they would like to discuss,” Stancel said.
Westerhouse explained that parking is an issue during events downtown, and 100 Central Avenue residents in attendance explained that the public tailgates them to gain access to off-limit residential parking floors in that garage.
Parking Manager Mark Lyons said he’s working with Westerhouse to address issues in the garage and to further clarify who manages what moving forward.
Merchants in attendance also suggested future permit requirements for large downtown events could set parameters for managing parking.
Lyons said it has been an issue getting the public to use the larger city-owned Palm Avenue parking garage down the street because it’s further away from events and people aren’t familiar with it.
“The problem is people are more familiar with garages like the Whole Foods parking garage than they are with the Palm Avenue garage,” Lyons said.
City officials agreed future permit parameters might include parking management, including the use of sandwich-board type signs directing people where to park and using people to direct motorists to other locations when a garage becomes full.
Pushing for Downtown Mobility
Rod Warner, a roundabout proponent and chairman of The City Alliance, urged the Downtown Improvement District and other organizations Tuesday to sign resolutions to encourage future collaboration with the city of Sarasota and Sarasota County to endorse and get funding for a bayfront connectivity plan that includes roundabouts on U.S. 41 at 10th Street and 14th Street.
Vice Mayor Terry Turner, who attended Tuesday’s DID meeting, explained that the Metropolitan Planning Organization created a $270 million project funding pot that the city and county, along with other Southwest Florida communities, must vie for to get funding for projects.
On Monday, the Sarasota City Commission approved staff’s recommendation to begin getting $50 million in funding for U.S. 41 projects.
“We are trying to make U.S. 41 safer by transforming it,” Warner said.
Although funding for the projects could be dispersed in 2017 at the earliest, Warner hopes the city and the county, along with the support from other organizations, can help speed up the process.
“We need local support to let everyone know we are ready to move now,” Warner said.