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St. Armands Circle paid parking
Sarasota Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 3 years ago

St. Armands leaders talk parking plans

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Merchants and landlords in St. Armands Circle want to make sure everybody is prepared for the implementation of paid parking.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Sometime this winter, a series of green, yellow and magenta signs will go up around St. Armands Circle, heralding a forthcoming paid parking program in the commercial district.

In December, following the opening of a parking garage on North Adams Drive, the city will implement a tiered pay-to-park system on the Circle. That was the subject of discussion at Tuesday’s St. Armands Business Improvement District meeting, where area property owners and merchants stressed the importance of a smooth transition to paid parking.

City Parking Manager Mark Lyons went over the mechanics of the system Tuesday. After parking, visitors will input their license plate into one of the pay stations installed along the street. Users will pay different rates depending on where they parked. The closest spaces will cost $1.50 per hour, while outlying areas will cost either $1, 75 cents or 50 cents an hour.

Different parking zones will be marked with instructional signs of different colors, each denoting the hourly rate.

Those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting urged the city to be very thoughtful in how it promotes the new paid parking system and educates both businesses and visitors to the area.

“The way this is branded is going to be vital to the success of the parking department for the city,” BID board member Geoffrey Michel said.

BID Director Gavin Meshad said he was particularly concerned about how the public would respond to the use of a pay-by-plate system. He wanted the city to seriously consider the best way to make sure visitors knew they had to know their license plate number before they got to a pay station.

“I would be really hot if I walk 100 yards and then I realize I gotta put my license plate in,” Meshad said.

Lyons was optimistic many visitors to St. Armands would be comfortable with the meters, though he acknowledged dedicated education efforts would also be necessary. He pledged to meet with Circle merchants to teach them about the system, and he said the city would be ramping up a public awareness campaign going forward.

Although he’s hopeful things will go relatively smoothly, he did warn the BID that some users would inevitably voice displeasure.

“I don’t think we should be naive,” Lyons said. “There’s going to be people who are going to cause a problem.”

Meshad said it would help St. Armands if the city were also implementing paid parking downtown, preventing any criticism of paid parking from focusing solely on the Circle. Although Lyons has previously recommended paid parking downtown, the City Commission has declined to pursue the proposal. The commission is scheduled to revisit the topic at an Oct. 15 meeting.

Regardless of what happens downtown, BID board members said it would be crucial to manage the public perception of the parking meters — and for Circle stakeholders to put forward a positive message about the changes.

“All we need is one little Susie naysayer to be in her little store saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ and it hits Longboat Key,” Michel said. “I’ve seen a rumor hit Longboat like you wouldn’t believe, and all of a sudden, the golf courses and the bridge and the mahjong, they’re all talking about it, and St. Armand’s is the devil’s spawn.”

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