A St. Armands parking feasibility study set to begin in August will illuminate concepts for a parking garage that could be located at one of two potential city-owned parcels on the Circle.
The St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID) will fund the study, up to $50,000. The study will concentrate on two parcels — one at the corner of Fillmore and Monroe drives, on the south end of the Circle, and the other on a parcel on North Adams Drive behind the Columbia Restaurant.
According to Mark Lyons, the city’s parking manager, the study should answer the following questions: “If we did build a parking garage, where would it be? What would it look like? How much would it cost?” The city is overseeing the study.
During an update on the parking project at a June 11 Business Improvement District (BID) meeting, Lyons said it’s important the study also address concerns about blending the parking garage into the environment of homes located near the structure, especially if the site at the corner of Fillmore and Monroe drives is chosen. That site is located close in proximity to homes on both sides.
“We want to make sure the neighborhoods are completely protected and it blends in,” Lyons said.
The city will begin seeking bids from consultants next week to conduct the study.
“We are trying to move it forward as quickly as we can,” Lyons said.
If plans for a garage advance, the BID — a taxing district that St. Armands Circle property owners voted to create to help finance improvements on the Circle — along with the city, would co-fund the cost of the parking garage, said Marty Rappaport, chairman of the Circle’s business district.
Rappaport expressed a mood of willing compromise between commercial property owners and merchants, who say a lack of parking spaces has been hurting business, and Circle residents, who are concerned about the impacts of a multi-level parking structure.
Some residents want to see two improvements — buried powerlines and a newly landscaped median on John Ringling Boulevard heading onto the Circle from Sarasota — completed if the city moves ahead with the parking structure.
“Here is the entrance to the jewel of the whole area, and we have these horrible powerlines,” Jay Sparr president of the St. Armands Residents Association Sparr said after the meeting.
Homeowners would like to see both improvements completed simultaneously as the garage.
Ed Rosenblum, a member of the residents association, agreed that the two improvements would be a welcome addition to the Circle when packaged with a parking structure deal.
“We do not oppose a parking garage, provided it meets our needs,” Rosenblum said.
The biggest unknown for the construction of a parking garage is funding. One possible source would be contingent on an extension of the St. Armands BID taxing district.
On May 14, the St. Armands BID announced its second effort to mail out ballots for a 10-year extension vote for the district. In April, the district failed to receive adequate landowner approval for the extension. At the time, 33 of the 65 ballots were returned to the city auditor. The special taxing district will expire Sept. 30 without a successful referendum vote by landowners.
“On Sept. 18 we should know the results of the referendum,” Rappaport said.
The need for a parking structure was identified in the Circle’s master plan penned five years ago. At the time, the master plan pointed out a shortage of 750 to 1,000 parking spaces on the Circle, where parking for visitors is mostly limited to on-street parking.
Compared to other areas of the city, parking is limited on the Circle.
“Our data shows the lowest number of (parking) spaces and the highest demand,” Lyons said.