“Now is not the time” is the message the board of the Downtown Improvement District (DID) wants the City Commission to hear.
With commissioners set to decide Aug. 17 whether to install parking meters downtown, they wanted input from the DID before they cast their votes.
DID board members, in turn, wanted to hear from its constituents, downtown property owners and merchants in their district, before they rendered their decision.
“At the time this was first discussed, growth was projected to expand,” said Allison Bishop, owner of Living Walls. “This may be a valid program one day for Sarasota, but it’s not valid now.”
After merchants voiced strong opposition to paid parking, the DID board unanimously approved a recommendation that calls for a delay on parking meters.
And it laid out four steps the city would have to take before it would consider supporting paid parking:
• Completion of the Palm Avenue parking garage.
• Completion of the wayfinding system phases that include signs directing drivers to public parking lots.
• Implementation of a revenue-sharing plan that reinvests into downtown the money from parking meters.
• Creation of an educational campaign to instruct the community on the benefits of parking meters.
Last year, when the city began a series of public meetings to look for community suggestions for the coming paid-parking program, the city considered parking meters a done deal. It was only looking for input on how to implement the program, which called for about 700 spaces on Main Street and a few side streets to become paid-parking spaces.
But implementation may no longer be so certain. Within the past three months, at least two city commissioners, Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Commissioner Terry Turner, have said they don’t believe now is the time to start the program. They think economic conditions, coupled with paid parking, might hurt businesses even more.
The merchants at this week’s DID meeting expressed the same view.
Said Wendy Getchell, owner of Lotus: “This could be the final nail the coffin for many merchants. More stores may close, and then there will be plenty of parking.”
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