Southside Village businesses face a parking issue that’s fairly simple to diagnose, but coming up with a remedy has been a head-scratcher.
There are a number of factors that exacerbate the issue troubling the area, but when it comes down to it, there simply isn’t enough space.
With Sarasota Memorial Hospital located to the north and residential areas flanking the village to the south, the district between U.S. 41 and Osprey Avenue lacks open space that might offer relief.
City Parking Manger Mark Lyons acknowledged it was a challenge to figure out where to begin when it comes to implementing a solution.
“They’re in a tough area — it’s almost like a mini-St. Armands,” Lyons said. “It’s a busy district and they’ve got the neighborhoods all around them. It’s a difficult situation.”
The longevity of the parking issue speaks to the difficulty of solving it. Belinda Coffrin is the owner of Coffrin Jewelers, at 1829 S. Osprey Ave., and serves on the city’s Parking Advisory Committee. Coffrin said the situation is well-acknowledged, but little has changed despite that fact.
“I’d say at least the past 10 years, I’ve been listening to people say there’s no place to park,” Coffrin said.
Coffrin said the issue starts with a lack of employee parking. With little to no on-site parking for workers at many businesses, employees occupy the street parking designed for customer use. As a result, those spaces fill up quickly at peak hours, forcing customers to either park in nearby residential areas or leave the area altogether.
Coffrin said an employee parking lot would be the obvious solution, cutting off the domino effect she described at its head. Unfortunately, she said, that sort of space is hard to come by.
As a result of the street-parking shortfall, the businesses that do have on-site lots in the area tend to be fiercely protective of that space, Coffrin said. She believes that’s making matters worse, for individuals who have unpleasant parking experiences in the area, such as getting towed, could avoid village businesses altogether.
“All we can do as employers is be kind to other business’s customers, who are our customers, also,” Coffrin said. “I think people sometimes tow customers away because they don’t want them in their lot — those could be your customers, too!”
Élan Skin Spa, located at 1806 S. Osprey Ave., has 10 on-site parking spaces available for its customers. Monee Arpin, the store’s owner, says that wasn’t an accident — she sought out the location specifically because her patrons would have secured spots. As a result, she hasn’t dealt with the parking woes plaguing other businesses.
The spa only allows for its own customers to park in the lot, which Arpin said was typical of businesses in the area. When the store closes at 6 p.m., the lot is chained off for the rest of the day. Arpin hasn’t received any requests from other merchants to keep her lot open, and believes the onus should not be on businesses with parking to accommodate the shortfalls of other shops.
“The reason we came in here was because we had parking for our clients,” Arpin said.
Eddie Morton, owner of Morton’s Gourmet Market, says parking has been an issue in the area since he began working at the store in 1969. Morton’s has its own parking lot and attendant, which it shares with Libby’s Cafe, but Morton has worked with the city over the decades to try to address the larger issue.
Historically, attempts to add parking have failed to resolve the problems. The city added angled parking to Hillview Street in the ’90s, and the hospital allows for the use of its garage for special events.
The effects of the parking shortage extend beyond the borders of the Southside Village, for employees who want to avoid the hassle of moving their car when the on-street time limits expire occupy nearby residential streets.
“The employees infringe into the neighborhood areas,” Morton said. “Some neighbors are fine with it, some don’t like it, but we’ve lived with it.”
Lyons agreed with Morton’s assessment, saying that residents closer to businesses are tolerant of the parking overflow, but that they receive complaints when cars park in front of homes three or four blocks away.
Lyons said the city’s parking division is looking for areas where on-street parking can be added, with a report expected in a few weeks. The area will also be addressed in the Parking Advisory Committee’s comprehensive city parking report, due later this year. Still, he said, the situation would remain a challenge as long as the characteristics of the village remained constant.
“Those are the resources that are available, and we’re just trying to maximize them,” Lyons said.
Contact David Conway at [email protected]