There may be some lingering concerns, but city staff is optimistic the St. Armands parking garage project will be a success.
After holding three public workshops regarding a parking garage project near St. Armands Circle — and the two years of discussion that preceded — city Parking Manager Mark Lyons is confident the plans will work out.
That’s not to say all the questions about the garage have been fully answered. At the most recent workshop, held June 8, some merchants and residents still showed signs of concern.
Some of the issues raised: How will the paid parking system that’s coming to St. Armands, along with the garage, work out? Will employees really have to pay to park? Will the city properly maintain the proposed landscaping included with the project?
Lyons and other project team members tried to assure the public it would all work out, but at this point, skeptics might need to see that before they believe it. For the most part, though, he thinks St. Armands is behind the garage project.
“The reason we’re going out and doing this is because of the community effort with landowners, residents and merchants,” Lyons said. “We spent a good two years talking about how to resolve some of the issues.”
Last year, the City Commission approved $17.5 million in bonds to fund a 521-space garage at 47 N. Adams Drive, currently a public parking lot. The project will also include burying power lines along John Ringling Boulevard and adding signs and improving medians in the area.
Although Lyons pointed to a lengthy community conversation before the city formally approved the project, a series of workshops this year exposed more concerns. Most notably, residents across the street from the site expressed fear the garage would lead to traffic problems and light and noise pollution.
On June 8, however, those concerns appeared to have largely been quelled. Architect Jonathan Parks and landscape architect Bill Waddill said the plans had been adjusted since the previous meeting to soften the facade along Madison Drive. Changes included increased landscaping on that side and the removal of pedestrian exits onto Madison.
In May, Madison Drive resident Dan Snyder suggested the project team wasn’t taking residents’ needs into consideration. At the June 8 meeting, he applauded the changes planners made.
“I think the project is much more respectful to the neighborhood than when we first started,” Snyder said.
Most of the concern at the workshop pertained to employee parking once a paid parking system is instituted around the Circle. Paid parking will begin once the garage is complete. Although some spaces will still be free, the majority — including those in the garage — will be pay-to-park.
The city approved the paid parking system to help fund the garage project, a compromise St. Armands landowners endorsed last year. But after the city started its $260,000 annual assessment on St. Armands Circle properties that will pay for the rest of the garage during the next 20 years, merchants have said they’re bearing an undue burden to get the parking structure built.
Lyons said St. Armands employees will be subject to the same parking permit program that’s in place downtown. The city charges $20 per month for an employee parking permit. Although some merchants grumbled about the expense, Lyons said all users of the garage had to contribute to the funding of the project.
“It’s not an employee-only facility,” Lyons said. “As the use of this area and the draw continues, just like in downtown, we have to somehow offset those expenses — just like we do for the public.”
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