St. Armands Business Improvement District members want the city to hit the gas pedal toward a new parking structure.
Marty Rappaport is tired of waiting.
A member of the St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District, Rappaport has been working alongside other area stakeholders for more than two decades to address parking issues in the commercial tourist district. During that time, he hasn’t seen any significant progress.
The city is finalizing a study that examines those parking issues and potential solutions — in particular, the possibility of constructing one or two parking garages on city-owned lots adjacent to the Circle — and Rappaport is stressing the need to take aggressive action.
“I think that we’re at a point right now where it has to go before the commissioners,” he said at Tuesday’s BID meeting. “It can’t wait.”
The study, which has been ongoing since 2013, was originally slated to go before the Sarasota City Commission last year, but comments from residents, merchants and landowners in the area sent the city and its consultant back to the research stage. Although the study explored the possible construction of a garage on lots on North and South Adams Drive, St. Armands stakeholders pushed for two smaller garages at both sites as an alternative.
On Tuesday, City Parking Manager Mark Lyons said the updated study includes cost estimates of $17 million to $18 million to construct the two smaller garages, Lyons said. The cost of building one larger garage at North Adams Drive is around $8.5 million, while the cost at South Adams Drive is $12 million to $13 million.
According to the study, undertaken by Kimley-Horn and Associates, an average shortage of about 320 parking spaces exists on the Circle. At the largest, a single four-level garage could contain up to 500 spaces. Lyons said both individual garage models would cover the entirety of the parking deficit found in the study.
As for the preferred two-garage model, Lyons admitted cost would be a significant hurdle. Still, he said the parking decks would come with their own rewards and not just for those on the Circle.
“I think everyone benefits from increasing parking benefits there,” Lyons said.
The BID has committed to contributing $100,000 annually — nearly half of the board’s revenue — toward the completion of the garage and additional amenities if the project moves forward soon. However, Rappaport cautioned that further delays from the city could force the BID to focus its investments elsewhere.
“If, after all the time we’ve put into this, we can’t get a go-ahead on this here, then I think it’s time to say ‘Fine, that’s it,’” Rappaport said. “Whatever happens happens, but it probably won’t have BID support.”
At Tuesday’s St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting, Circle leaders questioned city staff about regulations governing amplified noise in the public right of way.
Those in attendance Tuesday were worried about the free reign buskers and other individuals have to pump noise through amplifiers on the Circle, but according to city staff, there’s not much they can do to cut down on the sound. As long as people abide by the city’s noise ordinance and are not unreasonably blocking the route for other individuals, they’re abiding by city regulations.
“I think the city attorney feels it’s more of a First Amendment right as long as people aren’t unreasonably blocking the sidewalk,” said Gretchen Schneider, the city’s general manager of planning and development.
St. Armands stakeholders weren’t entirely satisfied with that explanation, arguing that the noise can interfere with businesses along the Circle.
“These people can come up, set up in front of a store, play into a store and they can’t stay anything,” said Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association.
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