St. Armands Circle stakeholders are standing firm behind a plan to add a Circle parking garage.
At Monday’s Sarasota City Commission meeting, St. Armands residents, merchants and landowners presented a united front, advocating for progress toward a long-awaited parking garage in the area.
For now, it appears their efforts have paid off: The commission unanimously voted to further explore a list of four requests from St. Armands stakeholders, chief among them the construction of a four-level parking garage near the Circle.
Commissioners first heard a presentation from Parking Manager Mark Lyons, who worked alongside consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates to produce a parking study for St. Armands Circle. The study, which began in 2013, examined a variety of parking problems on the Circle, but the bulk of the attention was focused on addressing the parking deficit in the area — estimated at roughly 320 spaces.
To fix that problem, the report named two potential sites for parking garages in the area: two municipal parking lots on North Adams Drive and South Adams Drive. Each site had its benefits and drawbacks: The north lot was less expensive but smaller and irregularly shaped; the south lot was larger but more expensive and located in a more residential area.
In total, cost estimates ranged from $8 million for a 403-space garage on North Adams to $14 million for a 597-space garage on South Adams. The study also considered the prospect of constructing two smaller lots on each site, a favored solution for Circle stakeholders that came with a price tag of $17.1 million for 605 spaces.
With the city reluctant to commit to the big-ticket item, St. Armands stakeholders threw their support behind a garage at North Adams Drive. To satisfy residents — who had voiced concern about the height of the larger garages — the group also asked for landscape improvements along the entryway to St. Armands Circle, beginning at Coon Key. Other requests included burying the power lines along that entryway and making sure the garage blended into its surroundings.
The commission unanimously agreed to look into the stakeholders’ list of requests and suggested that the garage was a long time coming.
“This is the first we’ve seen a coalition like this,” Vice Mayor Susan Chapman said. “Given that there is this pressing need for parking on St. Armands, I would like to try to put into operation some step forward.”
Still, questions remain. Representatives for the merchants, landowners and residents groups suggested that their four requests were a package deal — that to get all stakeholders on board, the entire list needs to be satisfied. Commissioner Eileen Normile pointed out the streetscape request along John Ringling Boulevard was at odds with a vision presented by the city’s Urban Design Studio, which calls for formalized parallel parking along the corridor.
Marty Rappaport, a board member of the St. Armands Business Improvement District (BID), said parallel parking would end up hurting the Circle during event weekends. The garage would be intended to address a normal peak parking demand; parking demand for peak event weekends far exceeds that, according to the report.
Residents were concerned that, if the event parking capacity along the median leading into the Circle was reduced, more cars would end up parked in surrounding neighborhoods, according to St. Armands Residents Association President Hugh Fiore.
“Big parking garages are not an easy thing to sell to residents,” Fiore said.
City Manager Tom Barwin said staff will examine logistical and funding options before reporting back to the City Commission. Already, the BID has committed to contributing $100,000 toward the project each year over the next eight years. “In order to sell it, we need some of the aesthetic part of it — and that’s where the median comes in. It is tied at the hip.”
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