Several weeks ago, my colleague in this column, John Gudritz, wrote about the need for more parking on Siesta Key, North Village and Main Beach. He cited the problem but stopped short of offering solutions.
Clearly, I agree that the No. 1 beach and the North Village have parking issues. Anecdotally, we learned that some 20% of visitors to Siesta Key leave because they can’t find parking.
During the real-estate boom, I wrote an article for a local magazine that compared Sarasota with Coca-Cola. Remember New Coke? The Coca-Cola Co. changed the formula. The public objected.
Similarly, changing the Siesta Key formula could also motivate public objection and worse.
Solving our parking problem must not alter our brand, our formula, or our visual image. County government officials suggesting a parking solution must keep our image and brand in mind. Otherwise, the immediate solution could create a long-term problem.
For instance, a parking garage, even a two-story structure, would change the look of the Village and/or the beach. Consider that seemingly unused parking garage on North Palm Avenue. Do you use it when you go downtown?
We must employ imagination and creativity. Here are three ways to begin to solve the parking problem.
1. Make use of existing resources. Three churches have large parking lots. Services, even Sunday mornings, would not conflict with beach goers and Village visitors. The lots sit empty most of the day.
Organize a series of regularly scheduled round-trip jitneys from the church lots. While the open-air bicycles and little carts serve a purpose, let’s formalize the jitney process. (Have you seen the Atlantic City, N.J. jitneys?)
The St. Michael’s jitney would travel from the church to Main Beach and on to the Village. And the same route for St. Boniface, although it already has a jitney program that goes to the beach. The Siesta Key Chapel (Presbyterian Church) jitney would travel to the Village and then on to the beach. These jitneys would serve daytime beach visitors, as well as nighttime diners and entertainment seekers.
Churches can always use additional revenue. A modest roundtrip fare or a seasonal subscription could apply. Caretakers at the parking lots and jitney drivers would mean added jobs in our community.
2. Investigate the secret/hidden parking places in the Village and at Main Beach. The land behind the Beach Club, extending to Avenida Madera, could be paved and lighted: It will add about 15 spaces. The lot behind Gilligan’s and Blasé Café could hold another 20 cars. The lot behind Daiquiri Deck holds about 20 cars. The lot behind the UPS store could hold another 15.
Making use of these 70 parking spots will not change the look of the Village. Some already know about them. Perhaps financing for paving and lighting (solar) can receive an equally creative solution.
In addition, the empty lot on Calle Minorga, between Avenida Madera and Avenida Milano, could be used for parking. (The Village could rent it and park 50-plus cars there.) And some eight cars could park along the fence.
Allegedly, the County Commission cited there are 100 parking spots at Main Beach. We saw approximately 50-plus potential spots between the tennis courts and the restrooms. Extending the parking lot in this way will not interfere with any recreational facilities. Perhaps the county can add our 50 to its 100.
3. Study how other similar communities solved parking problems. A team of county and key officials, citizen-residents too, could participate. Surely Siesta Key can learn from Panhandle communities or those on the Jersey Shore or the North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida barrier islands.
Above all, let’s think of creative and imaginative solutions. We have a unique little island. Let’s apply equally unique thinking. Just looking around, as I did, turned up 125-plus potential spots.
Lastly, employing better signage would alert visitors to the behind-the-scenes parking spots.
Thank you, John Gudritz, for citing the need and getting us started.
Jeffrey Weisman owned an advertising and marketing agency in New York City. In Sarasota, he creates fine-art photography and serves on the board of directors of Art Center Sarasota.