It was disheartening to read about the reason for the closing of Anna’s Deli in Siesta Key Village. Anna’s sandwiches (especially “The Surfer”) have been a must-have for my family since the deli first opened 41 years ago. To have such an icon of the Village close its doors because of a lack of parking should be a call to action for the Siesta Key Village Association and the Sarasota County Commission. It is time to get serious about the parking problem in the Village as well as the public beach.
As I have mentioned in this column before, I was coming to Siesta Key even before Anna’s opened its first store in the Village. The Village has changed tremendously over the years. Although I personally preferred the way it was 20 years ago, I am aware that times change and we have to change with it. I am trying.
My real problem with the development of Siesta Key and, more importantly, the Village, is that it focused on attracting more tourists without making sure that the infrastructure was keeping up with the numbers. The development motto should have been, “If we build it, they will come,” and officials should have been better prepared for that growth.
Although solutions to the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Key during the winter months are not clear but surely complicated, parking is a problem that can much more easily be solved. More people with cars require more parking: It is that simple.
Siesta Key officials got a big boost in their effort to increase tourism when Siesta Beach was named the No. 1 Beach in the U.S. by Steve Leatherman (Dr. Beach) in 2011. That kind of publicity for a beach vacation destination is priceless, and Siesta Key continues to benefit from it. Hotel rooms and rental properties were full throughout most of the winter season this year. However, for those new visitors, as well as the rest of us who call the Key home (at least a part of the year), there were traffic and, more importantly, parking issues that were frustrating at times.
The serious lack of parking spaces at the public beach is shameful. It can also be dangerous. I have witnessed despicable acts from frustrated beachgoers trying desperately to find a place to put their cars. Verbal and even physical altercations are not unusual in the height of the season between individuals who each claim to have the right to the next open space in the parking lot.
The Sarasota County Commission has taken action to help alleviate the parking shortage at the beach, but it is woefully too little, too late. A little more than 100 new spaces does not cut it. Maybe 300 spaces would make a difference. Unfortunately, they have made it clear that this is all they can do for now. Oh well, it is a start.
Increasing parking spaces in the Village should be next on the agenda. And, along with additional parking spaces, there needs to be a system for reserving those spaces for people who are patronizing the various businesses within the Village, not going to the beach.
The reality of these unfortunate consequences of attracting more people to Siesta Key is that some economic principles will have to be enacted and enforced. Either we will have to pay to vastly increase the supply of parking at the beaches and the Village or we will have to devise disincentives to park on the Key. Parking meters did not go over so well in downtown Sarasota, so I am not anticipating them on the Key anytime soon. But that day will come.
The increasing traffic and parking issues on Siesta Key will actually discourage visitors, which will negate the efforts of the visitors bureau or chamber of commerce to attract more tourists to our beaches and businesses. The solutions may be expensive, annoying and/or inconvenient but will be necessary if we want the Key to remain a desirable destination. Let’s do something before more businesses, like Anna’s, decide to leave the Village.
John Gudritz is the co-owner of an investment management firm. He and his wife have been coming to Siesta Key since the 1970s and have been property owners and seasonal residents since 2008.