City Commission approves island changes designed to conform to downtown Sarasota program
On a unanimous vote, the Sarasota City Commission this week approved higher fees for the St. Armands paid parking program. However, the changes will be in line with the fees in downtown Sarasota, city staff pointed out.
The second required public hearing on the proposals will be scheduled for a September meeting, according to materials in the agenda packet for the board’s Aug. 17 session.
Mark Lyons, who heads up the city’s Parking Management Division, reminded the commissioners on Aug. 17 that, during their July budget workshops, he reported on a study that the city had directed a consultant to undertake in regard to the paid parking program on St. Armands.
The goal in collecting revenue in the shopping district is to meet the city’s bond obligations for the construction of the St. Armands parking garage, Lyons pointed out.
As the revised parking program ordinance notes, the City Commission voted on May 16, 2016, to authorize the issuance of $17.5 million in bonds to pay for construction of the garage.
A slide Lyons showed the commissioners on Aug. 17 said the estimated annual revenue on St. Armands, as a result of the changes in the street parking program, would be $364,842; for the garage and the Fillmore Avenue surface lot, the amount has been put at $143,684. Thus, the total would be $508,526.
During the July 13 budget workshop, Lyons told the city commissioners that he expects the revenue from the St. Armands Parking Program to be slightly more than $1 million for the 2022 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, with the changes going into effect. The beginning fund balance for the account is anticipated to be $496,122, according to a slide in the agenda packet for that meeting.
The transfer to the debt service for the bonds in the 2022 fiscal year would be $640,00, the slide showed.
One of the primary recommendations of the parking study, Lyons noted during the Aug. 17 discussion, was the need “to create more continuity” between the downtown paid parking program and the one on the barrier island.
First, Lyons added, the consultant found “there was some confusion” for members of the public because of the various parking meter zones on St. Armands. Therefore, he said, it makes sense to consolidate the zones.
However, he continued, “We did not want to suggest a significant change that would be detrimental to anyone” wishing to visit St. Armands. Therefore, Lyons said, the rate will remain the same as the fee originally set for the “core” parking area: $1.50 per hour.
In the surface lot located at 58 Fillmore Drive, a city staff memo noted, the fee will rise from 75 cents per hour to $1 per hour.
The fees to use the St. Armands parking garage will mirror those in the downtown Sarasota garages, Lyons also pointed out: The first two hours will be free; then, the fee will be $3 for the third hour and $1 for each additional hour, up to a maximum of $23 per day. The fee for the St. Armands garage has been 50 cents for the first hour.
The lower expense for the St. Armands garage was planned as an incentive for drivers to use that facility, Lyons reminded the commissioners. The goal was to reduce traffic on the Circle, he said.
Moreover, Lyons told the commissioners, the first 10 minutes of parking on the street or in the garage will be free, as in downtown Sarasota.
Further, he said, the charges for street parking on St. Armands will begin at 10 a.m., instead of 9 a.m. “We studied that very carefully,” he said of the hours for meter use. The number of users, including workers, is small until after 10 a.m., Lyons noted.
Thus, the meters will be in use from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday on St. Armands, except for city holidays.
Saturdays had been free on St. Armands, Lyons noted. However, he said, “[Saturday] is still a very, very busy day. Our estimates show that [charging for that day] would [make] a significant difference in the revenue.”
Support from Circle leaders
“We had multiple meetings with the St. Armands Merchant Association,” Lyons continued on Aug. 17, as well as discussions with the St. Armands Business Improvement District board. Both are supportive of the changes, as indicated by letters they have sent to the city, he noted, and comments that representatives of the groups made to the City Commission in June.
During the June 7 City Commission meeting, Geoffrey Michael, chair of the St. Armands Business Improvement District and a 20-year merchant on the Circle, said, “Though I am compassionate to the immediate encumbrances to visitors, I am aware of the need for solvency of the parking system. … We need an effective turnover of parking spaces, which is beneficial to visitors and merchants.”
Michael added, “I believe the allowance of 10 minutes free, consolidated rates and paid Saturdays are logical amendments [with] minimal hardship …”
Concerns about the mobile parking app
On Aug. 17, Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo asked Lyons about the fact that the city allows people to park for free for 15 minutes in downtown Sarasota. “But there’s been a huge level of confusion,” Arroyo emphasized, because that free period is available just if someone uses a parking kiosk, not the Park Mobile app.
“In order to be consistent,” Arroyo added, he believes the 15-minute period should be provided via the app, as well.
Lyons pointed out that the period is 10 minutes in downtown Sarasota. “This was the plan from the original design. … We do advertise it. It’s on the [parking kiosks].”
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch explained that the reasoning for setting that amount of time was to assuage concerns of downtown coffee shop owners, who feared losing business of customers who typically run in quickly to get a beverage.
A person using a machine still has to enter the license plate number, Lyons explained to Arroyo, to get the 10-minute free period.
“I think we’re going to be able to make the app do this as well,” Lyons added of allowing for the initial free 10 minutes, after a person enters his or her license plate number.
Mayor Hagen Brody told Lyons he looks forward to that adjustment, as he has heard people describe having to use the kiosks as “onerous.”
Brody also confessed that he never has used the app. “I haven’t figured out how [to do that].”
Lyons responded that a QR code on each paid parking machine can be scanned on a smartphone. The code will take the user to the pay portal. Therefore, it is not necessary to use the app.
“Great,” Brody said.
Commissioner Kyle Scott Battie acknowledged that he seldom uses the metered spaces in downtown Sarasota. Nonetheless, he continued, he has encountered difficulty in reading the screens on them.
Lyons explained that, before the city purchased the new meters for downtown and St. Armands, staff conducted trials to determine their ease of use. People were invited to try putting in information in the daytime and at night, Lyons added. The acceptance rate for the equipment the city staff settled on was 80%, he added. “It was considered, and probably still is, one of the best screens available.”
However, he pointed out, someone wearing “very strong sunglasses” is likely to encounter screen visibility issues. “Overall, we’ve had very good experience with those screens.”
Both Commissioners Liz Alpert and Ahearn-Koch talked of using the parking app and finding that it works well.
Differences in garage usage
In response to a question from Mayor Brody, Lyons explained that use of the St. Armands parking garage is different from the use observed with the two garages in downtown Sarasota.
On St. Armands, Lyons continued, activity tends to slow down about 9 p.m. Downtown, he said, people typically stay later.
Thus, the city charges for use of the St. Armands garage until 10 p.m. on the weekdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. In downtown Sarasota, Lyons added, people pay to use the garages until midnight Monday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Brody asked what happens if someone leaves one of the garages after the paid parking period ends.
No one is present to collect the driver’s money, Lyons replied. Staff had considered the cost of keeping an employee present later at night, compared to the amount of extra money that could be collected, he noted. The projected additional revenue did not warrant the staffing expense, Lyons said.