New parking garage open on St. Armands

Paid parking program on the Circle in effect as of this week

Work continued in early December 2018 on the St. Armands parking garage. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota via Twitter

Blame the delay on unexpected underground situations, manufacturing issues that slowed down the delivery of some construction supplies and design changes.

Finally — not quite two months later than originally planned — the St. Armands parking garage opened on Feb. 12.

That same day, the paid parking program the Sarasota City Commission approved for the Circle went into operation, the City of Sarasota announced.

Located at 47 N. Adams Drive, the $15-million garage has 484 spaces, five electric vehicle charging stations, “including one DC fast charger,” a bicycle storage and repair station, and public restrooms, city staff pointed out in a Feb. 8 news release. Additionally, 23 surface lot spaces were created next to the garage, the release noted.

Given the city’s commitment to sustainability, the city news release said, “[T]he garage features efficient lighting systems, a tire inflation station and solar panels that will be installed on the rooftop” to help power the garage.

The garage is the product of a partnership between the city and commercial property owners on St. Armands, the release added. Along with city bond revenue, $260,000 in annual assessments on property owners will cover the cost of the project.

During the Oct. 2, 2017 City Commission meeting, Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association — which represents the merchants — addressed the board about the studies that had been undertaken, as business owners on the Circle pushed for a sufficient number of parking areas for customers. The initiative to construct a garage began in 2005, she pointed out to the commissioners. “Our businesses have taken on a huge commitment,” she added.

A graphic shows the areas where parking meters have been installed on St. Armands Circle. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In May 2016, the City Commission split 3-2 over the issue of financing for the garage, with Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie and then-Commissioner Susan Chapman in the minority. At that time, the expense of the structure was estimated at $14,060,865. Chapman cited the expense per space in the garage as the reason for her “No” vote.

On Oct. 2, 2017, the board approved a Guaranteed Maximum Price of $11,974,255.

Freeland Eddie has continued to voice skepticism that the parking meter program on the Circle will provide adequate revenue to enable the city to pay off the bond debt of $17.5 million. (The figure includes the expense of burying the electrical lines on the John Ringling Causeway, to create a more attractive entrance to St. Armands and to improve the likelihood that power would not be disrupted during or after a major storm.)

In October 2017, in response to questions from Freeland Eddie, bond counsel Duane Draper of Bryant Miller Olive in Tampa and the city’s financial adviser, Craig Dunlap of Dunlap & Associates in Winter Park and Fort Myers, pointed out that the bond covenants would not allow the City Commission to halt the metered parking program on St. Armands, even if the public protested it, until the bonds were paid off.

However, the commissioners could change the fee structure and the time periods during which the meters are in operation, Draper said.

Parking program details provided

This graphic offers details about using the ParkMobile app. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In preparation for the paid parking program on St. Armands, 40 pay stations “and six traditional single-head parking meters” have been installed around the Circle for on-street parking payments and for parking in the Fillmore Lot (located at the intersection of South Adams Drive and Monroe Drive), the city news release points out. Visitors may pay by credit card, debit card, coins or the ParkMobile app when they use the metered spaces, the city news release said.

Almost 200 on-street parking spaces in the St. Armands Parking District will remain free.

The fee to park in the garage is 50 cents per hour, Monday through Saturday, excluding holidays recognized by the City of Sarasota.

On-street parking spaces are divided into color-coded zones, “based on proximity and convenience,” the release added:

  • Green — $1.50 per hour.
  • Yellow — $1 per hour.
  • Purple — 75 cents per hour.

As a major part of the meter selection process, city staff worked with residents and visitors to test a variety of models over a period of time on St. Armands Circle. That way, staff could gauge the ease of use of the various types of equipment, the release pointed out. The models staff ultimately recommended that the City Commission purchase were deemed to represent “the most user-friendly technology available,” having been found to be “as simple to use as an ATM,” the release said.

A parking station stands on St. Armands Circle. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

A user just enters his or her parking zone (which is posted on a street sign) and license tag (“consider taking a picture of it with your phone so it is readily available,” the release suggested).  A person will not need to return to his or her vehicle to place a receipt on the dashboard.

“For ease and convenience,” the release continues, visitors may use the ParkMobile app and pay from a mobile device. “Once registered in the ParkMobile system, simply enter the parking zone posted on street signs and select the duration of time,” the release explained. “Reminders can be sent when your parking session nears expiration and time can be extended via the app.”

The release notes that the ParkMobile “is used in many cities throughout Florida,” including Tampa, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Miami Beach, Delray Beach and Hollywood. Individuals who already have a ParkMobile account may use that same account, the release added; they do not have to re-register in the system.

Interested persons may wish to watch an instructional video, the release said.

“A small ParkMobile fee is applied for each mobile transaction,” the release pointed out.

Frequently Asked Questions about the paid parking program are posted on SarasotaFL.Gov/Parking.

Construction of the St. Armands garage began in May 2018. The plans were based on a 2013 city parking review that determined 300 to 600 parking spaces were needed in the shopping district, the release notes. Research undertaken in recent years for Visit Sarasota County has shown St. Armands Circle to be one of the community’s most popular tourist destinations.

“The St. Armands Parking District is the result of a collaborative effort to increase the turnover rate of parked vehicles and alleviate congestion on the Circle,” city Parking Division Manager Mark Lyons said in the release.