About 460 downtown parking spaces got some change at Tuesday’s Sarasota City Commission meeting — and it wasn’t in the form of coins. The commission voted to bag parking meters until Oct. 1 to allow the city to gather input from downtown business owners.
The 3-2 vote came after commissioners heard from more than a dozen merchants, most of whom said that the meters, which went into effect May 23, have negatively impacted their businesses.
Brooks Brothers associate Susan Seay said that her customers are unhappy with the meters.
“Our customers who can afford to pay for parking have weighed in,” she said. “They hate it.”
Ken Davis, general manager/proprietor of Barnacle Bill’s, said that dining for early-bird customers — typically the most price-sensitive — was down 55% in June compared the same period in 2010.
And Sergio Barill, owner of Mariposa Design, asked why parking meters are not present in other shopping areas, such as St. Armands Circle.
“The only thing I can come to is we are a group of merchants that are very badly represented,” he said.
But not everyone opposed the parking meters. Garden designer and past City Commission candidate Diana Hamilton said that she believes in the parking-meter system and supports a parking ambassador program.
Sarasota Police Capt. Jeff Karr and City Manager Bob Bartolotta suggested that merchants’ troubles were not solely the result of parking meters.
Karr said that he had spoken to merchants in Burns Court, which does not have paid parking, who had told him of similar declines in business.
“I think there is an economic downturn, but I don’t see meters as the main source of that downturn,” he said.
“It’s all anecdotal,” Bartolotta said, noting that only sales-tax revenue would provide evidence of a decline in revenue.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, who said that he does not oppose the meters, suggested temporarily bagging the meters and reverting to the previous time-limited parking system to allow the city to gather “very specific input” from merchants.
Vice Mayor Terry Turner expressed concern about the possibility of parking meters eventually spreading to other parts of Sarasota.
“I believe this is doing away with good business in a bad market,” he said.
At the end of the meeting, he directed city staff to explore a number of related issues, including what the resale value of the meters could be if the city eventually scrapped the entire system.
But Mayor Suzanne Atwell, who voted against the motion, said that she supports downtown paid parking.
“I think we need to give it more time,” she said.
Getting in gear
Sarasota Police Capt. Jeff Karr presented the following suggested accommodations to downtown parking:
• Remove multi-space meters from Gulfstream Avenue and revert 58 spaces to timed parking.
• Reduce hourly rates from $1 to 50 cents from June through August on First Street, State Street and Cocoanut and Pineapple avenues to the north of First Street.
• Establish two, free 15-minute parking spaces on each 100 block of Main Street.
• Reward employees who park in off-street, permitted areas by reducing costs through a tiered system that would cost $40 per month for one or two months to $25 per month for 12 months.
• Reduce the fine for unpaid meter violations to $22, from $35.
• Add instructional data at pay stations.
• Add two paid, part-time staff members to assist workers and undertake data collection.
Contact Robin Hartill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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