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East County Thursday, Jun. 25, 2009 13 years ago

Our View


John Simon is right.

The chief executive officer of Pineapple Square Properties LLC says now is not the time to install parking meters on Main Street or downtown.

Eventually, yes. Not now.

The Sarasota City Commission is expected to discuss parking meters again next week. One of the commissioners in the forefront of this controversial charge is Kelly Kirschner. In an e-mail to a few downtown business operators and residents June 18, Kirschner stated his position:

“I continue to hold out hope that together with merchants we’ll find a hybrid strategy that puts us on a path to achieve the goals we’re after and keep our Parking Division solvent.”

Kirschner, no doubt, has good intentions. But whenever you hear the words “hybrid strategy,” it clearly suggests it would not be an optimum strategy. In other words, flawed.

Worse was the goal to “keep our Parking Division solvent.”

That’s odd. What public service does our Parking Division perform, other than troll the streets to issue tickets and then process the fines?

If the goal is to keep the Parking Division solvent — a specious goal — that suggests it’s not now and is operating with too much overhead, i.e. too many government employees.

How about flipping the objective to what Simon suggests — having a parking strategy that helps keep our businesses solvent?

Toward that end, instituting metered parking on Main Street now would do more to make the businesses insolvent than solvent. As Simon explains, metered parking now would be more of a deterrent to generating downtown shoppers than the timed, free parking on Main and in other city lots.

Build up downtown shopping and traffic first; create more demand for parking, Simon says. Do this with a regulatory climate that is less onerous than the one that exists today.

If and when the city installs parking meters, such a step should be done in tandem with the opening of additional off-Main Street parking that would be tiered in cost. Main Street meters would be the most costly, and then the farther away from Main or the less desirable the parking, the less costly it would be. In some cases, say on the roof of a garage, it would even be free.

Here’s another key ingredient, adopted from professor Donald Schoup of UCLA, one of the leading gurus on parking in the United States: Revenues generated from parking meters should be reinvested in the area and infrastructure from which they were generated. This practice has succeeded in such cities as Pasadena, Calif., Santa Fe and West Palm Beach.

Schoup says when taxpayers see evidence that their parking quarters are being used to beautify streets and provide other street-level and parking improvements, they embrace the idea and don’t bellyache as they otherwise would about meters. This is akin to a business-improvement district, which taxes property owners for the purpose of redirecting that money specifically back into the district.

This is no “hybrid strategy.” Nor is it a plan to keep a bureaucracy entrenched and “solvent.” It’s a strategy that would benefit the public and downtown.

Hold off on the meters for now. Other pieces to the parking strategy must be in place first.

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