Parking Division manager says if all goes well, pay stations will become operational soon thereafter along Main Street and Palm Avenue
At some point next week — likely July 8 or 9 — the City of Sarasota’s paid parking program is expected to go “live” in the Judicial District east of Washington Boulevard, city staff has announced.
In January, when the City Commission approved the $352,000 expense for the new parking equipment — on a 3-2 vote — Mark Lyons, manager of the city’s Parking Division, told the board he expected the program would be operational by May. (Commissioners Hagen Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie cast the “No” votes.)
In response to a Sarasota News Leader question this week about the delay, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the city, wrote in a July 3 email, “The Parking Division originally looked at the possibility of implementing the new paid parking program at the end of May. Some equipment delivery delays pushed that timeframe into June, so it just made sense to wait until after the Fourth of July holiday weekend.”
Thornburg added, “The parking team is in the process of testing the new equipment (same as what is being used in the St. Armands Parking District).”
On May 22, Lyons told members of the city’s Parking Advisory Committee that, if all goes well with the initial use of meters in the Judicial District, staff will move to Phase II of the plan, which would make pay stations operational on Main Street between U.S. 301 and Orange Avenue. Phase III entails the meters from Orange to Palm Avenue.
During the Jan. 7 City Commission meeting, Lyons talked about the plans for pay stations to be installed on Main Street and Palm Avenue, as well as along Ringling Boulevard near the Silvertooth Judicial Center, the historic Sarasota County Courthouse and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office facilities.
On June 26, in an update to the Parking Advisory Committee, Lyons said, “If we’re very happy after a couple of days of operation [in the Judicial District], then we’ll activate the rest of the [pay stations], moving toward Gulfstream [Avenue]. That’s the plan.”
Sarasota Police Department employees and members of his staff will be serving as roving “ambassadors,” he added, to offer assistance and answer questions.
Moreover, he indicated that staff would take a soft approach to ticketing during the first week, writing citations perhaps just in the mornings.
A city news release pointed out that, in addition to using pay stations and traditional pole-mounted meters, motorists will have the option of utilizing the ParkMobile app to pay from a mobile device.
Lyons also has emphasized to the City Commission — and the public — that hundreds of parking spaces will remain free in downtown Sarasota.
Paid parking will be in effect from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Judicial District and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday in the other areas. The rate will be $1.50 per hour, according to a brochure the Parking Division has produced.
The first 10 minutes will be free, the brochure notes, except for those people using the pole-mounted meters. “Only one free transaction is permitted by block daily,” the brochure points out.
For people who forget to pay, the brochure explains that the Parking Division will offer a one-time citation waiver, which will be valid for a person who can produce a receipt showing an expenditure of $25 or more at a downtown business the day the citation was written.
Laying the groundwork
Lyons long has advocated a metered parking program. One reason, he has explained, is to eliminate an annual city subsidy for the Parking Division.
During the Nov. 5, 2018 City Commission meeting, Lyons reported that since 2011, the city had allocated about $3.3 million in those subsidies.
Yet, Lyons also has emphasized the importance of a paid parking program to reduce congestion in the downtown area. “[People choose a parking location instead of just hunting for one,” he told the commissioners during a September 2016 board meeting.
City Manager Tom Barwin elaborated on that.
“What we hope to eliminate is this pattern of circulating cars looking for that free parking spot,” as well as the common incident of a driver making a U-turn on Main Street to reach a space he or she suddenly sees is open, Barwin said.
With 3,000 new city residents expected as a result of the construction underway even then in downtown Sarasota, Barwin added that the metered parking program would be essential to creating the necessary turnover in spaces.
Nonetheless, some downtown business owners have remained opposed to the prospect of seeing meters installed once again on city streets.
The May 22 Parking Advisory Committee minutes included discussion about a May 1 meeting Lyons conducted with Palm Avenue merchants. Lyons told the advisory committee members that some of those merchants offered negative comments about the paid parking program.
City staff is encouraging anyone with questions about the new program to read through material posted on the city website at SarasotaFL.Gov/Parking.