Many St. Armands merchants saw their Christmas wish come true just before Thanksgiving. It came not from Santa Claus, but from the Sarasota City Commission when it voted Nov. 20 to ease parking restrictions on the Circle, essentially making it the same as it was prior to March.
Since then, merchants report few, if any, parking issues.
“I don’t have people coming in here in tears anymore,” said Chris Lynch, co-owner of Lynches Pub & Grub, who after the previous policy went into effect last spring, began making a point of warning visitors if they parked over the line in parking “boxes.”
“It’s all good now,” she said. “That was a nice Christmas present.”
Angela Johnston, owner of Les Ciseaux Hair Salon and Day Spa, said that she has heard positive feedback from customers, which has been good for business.
“People don’t seem to have that stress level where they’re watching their clocks,” Johnston said. “The feeling was that they (the city) weren’t encouraging people to be here.”
The commission voted to make parking restrictions uniform on the Circle and in downtown Sarasota and Hillview’s Southside Village last March, after agreeing to bag downtown parking meters that were unpopular with merchants and visitors. The decision effectively increased parking enforcement from the previous 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours Monday through Friday to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week.
Many St. Armands merchants argued that traditional approaches to parking enforcement weren’t effective on the Circle, where the majority of visitors are tourists. They worried about the impact on their businesses during the holidays, which are followed by peak season.
The commission agreed last month to eliminate Circle parking enforcement after 6 p.m. from Monday through Friday, along with Saturday enforcement, and add 200 extra parking spaces on the Circle, primarily for residents and employees.
Commissioners also agreed to remove “box” parking lines around the Circle, which merchants said often created a “domino” effect when one motorist was parked incorrectly, which resulted in multiple drivers parking outside of their allotted spaces.
Boxes were removed during the week of Thanksgiving.
“The City Commission listened to our concerns,” said Eric Seace, owner of Planet and president of the St. Armands Circle Association. “The problem has really seemed to simmer down. They acted very quickly.”
Many merchants feel that a longer-term solution is needed for the Circle’s parking issues.
“We all know the deep need for additional parking and public restrooms,” Seace said.