Free parking at the Palm Avenue parking garage is expected to end April 1.
A recently purchased parking-payment system will be installed then as the city begins charging drivers to park in the new facility.
The $264,000 Parking Access and Revenue-Control System (PARC) is an automated system that will allow 24-hour access to the garage.
The Sarasota Police Department, which now oversees the city’s parking operations and enforcement, will be able to utilize PARC to automate entry, exit, auditing and collections.
“This will be a turnkey system,” said Capt. Jeff Karr, who heads the police department’s parking division.
Initial plans are to charge drivers 50 cents per hour, or $40 for a monthly permit.
Within a half-mile radius outside the parking garage will be parking meters, which are expected to charge drivers $1 per hour to park in those spots.
City Manager Bob Bartolotta said the plan was to charge 50% less in the garage to provide an incentive to use the garage.
On-street parking spaces are the most coveted, so they will be more expensive.
Like other garages, drivers will take a ticket upon entering, and when they exit, they will insert coins, dollar bills or credit cards into an automated machine.
Monthly permit holders will be issued a “proximity card,” which they will swipe to enter and exit.
Sarasota Opera employees, for instance, will be given proximity cards, and the garage will serve as their primary parking option.
Valet companies are encouraged to apply for permission to enter into a contract with the city to use a portion of the Palm Avenue garage’s spaces for their businesses.
The city has also come up with a way for downtown businesses to reward their clients. Storeowners can purchase pre-paid parking tickets and hand them out to their customers as a token of appreciation.
Those tickets can be stamped with the business’ name or logo.
“I’d love to give someone a token,” said Eileen Hampshire, owner of Art to Walk On. “Anything to thank my customers and get them to come back.”
The implementation of the payment system in the Palm Avenue parking garage was close to another delay.
City commissioners debated Feb. 7 whether to approve the purchase of the police-recommended system.
Mayor Kelly Kirschner wanted to hear what the community wanted from a payment system before casting his vote to approve a contract.
“My personal preference would be to delay this until we hear from all stakeholders,” Kirschner said.
Commissioner Dick Clapp agreed with the mayor.
City Manager Bob Bartolotta explained that the contract was for purchasing the equipment and that it could be programmed in any way after it arrived in Sarasota.
“It will take eight to 12 weeks from the time we order the system (to the time it is delivered),” said Bartolotta. “(Waiting) would delay it further.”
Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins and Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Terry Turner voted to purchase the system immediately.
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