Beginning today, a new parking garage is open on St. Armands Circle, and a new paid parking program is in place.
When he arrived at St. Armands Circle Tuesday morning, Nick Moorman was willing to pay to park — even if he needed a little help figuring out how to do it.
Moorman, a visitor from Ohio, was among the first people to participate in Sarasota’s new St. Armands paid parking program. The city began to charge for on-street parking in the commercial district on Tuesday, timed to coincide with the opening of a 484-space parking garage on North Adams Drive.
As an early adopter, there were some challenges. Moorman had to make a trip back to his car to jot down his license plate number before entering it into the pay station, and a city parking employee helped walk him through the process of using the machine.
But although he described it as a little confusing, he said that was understandable for a new system. And although he would have preferred to park for free, paid parking wasn’t going to divert him from the Circle.
“I don’t like to pay extra money for parking, but that’s the world we live in,” Moorman said.
The city is striving to make the new paid parking program a smooth transition for businesses in St. Armands. The city has distributed informational brochures to stores and restaurants in the area, which highlight information such as the tiered pricing structure. Parking staff members will be stationed in the area for the next few days to help address any questions visitors have.
Sarasota's Parking Manager Mark Lyons said the city vetted the pay-by-plate pay stations before selecting them, and he was optimistic St. Armands would avoid the issues associated with previous efforts to implement paid parking downtown.
“Those pay machines, they’re as easy as an ATM to use,” Lyons said. “They walk you right through how to handle them. They’re color. They’re very sensitive to the touch, so it makes it very easy to operate.”
There remain critics of paid parking in St. Armands, and there were some early signs of struggle Tuesday morning. One visitor dug through her car for quarters, unprepared to pay using change. (The machines also take credit cards, though there is a $1.50 minimum charge.) Another complained the screen was challenging to read in the sun.
But others, like Moorman, were unfazed by the prospect of paid parking. Pat Vance, a Venice resident, didn’t know a paid parking program was going into effect Tuesday morning. She wasn’t exactly clear on the tiered pricing structure, where different color-coded zones have different hourly rates, and she thought the machine was hard to read in the sun.
Still, she found the actual process of paying was easy to understand. She said she wouldn’t avoid the area just because there are parking fees in place, though she might seek out a cheaper spot in the future.
“I think another time, I might go farther down to park and walk over,” Vance said. “I was sort of surprised by it, but I figured, well, I’m only going to be here a short time. I’ll just go along with the program.”
Lyons said the city worked with St. Armands businesses to address any lingering concerns ahead of the start of the paid parking program. The city lowered the rate for its employee parking program from $20 a month to $10 a month for St. Armands businesses. Lyons added that nearly 200 spaces in the area remain free of charge.
Roger Schuhmacher, co-owner of Madison Avenue Café and Deli, was excited about the opening of the St. Armands parking garage — funded in part using paid parking revenue. He thinks the garage will help address parking and traffic issues that have long afflicted the area, and he believes the rates the city has established reasonable rates.
“I’ve never heard of a town where you could park for 50 cents (an hour) in a parking garage,” Schuhmacher said.
Although the garage is open to the public, there remains some work to be done on the structure, Lyons said. That includes the installation of solar panels on the roof. Lyons said he hopes the garage will be complete within the next month.
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