Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie voices reservations that the revenue raised will prove sufficient
With only one “No” vote — from Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie, the Sarasota City Commission this week agreed to the next step in implementing a paid parking program on St. Armands Circle.
Staff will be back before the board during its regular meeting on May 16 for a formal vote on the resolution setting the fees designed to generate sufficient revenue to pay for the annual debt service on bonds for the construction of a 520-space parking garage, as well as for operating the facility in the upscale shopping district.
Paid parking will be in effect on a tiered scale based on the location of the meters in proximity to the circle, Mark Lyons, the city’s general manager of parking, pointed out during a May 2 presentation. The fees are $1.50 per hour for the area designed as the “core”; $1 for perimeter spaces; 75 cents for surface lot parking at 58 Fillmore Drive; and 50 cents for spaces in the garage.
The hours will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday for street spaces; and 24 hours a day, Monday through Saturday, for the garage, according to material Lyons provided the board in advance of the meeting.
The core area will encompass St. Armands Circle; Boulevard of the Presidents from the intersection of Madison Drive to Monroe Drive; and the 300 and 400 blocks of John Ringling Boulevard, from Adams Drive to Washington Drive. The perimeter is being defined as the 200 and 500 blocks of John Ringling Boulevard; Monroe Drive between South Adams Drive and South Washington Drive; Washington Drive between Madison and Monroe; Madison between North Adams Drive and North Washington Drive; Adams Drive between Madison and Monroe; the alley connecting the 300 block of Madison with the 500 block of North Washington; and the alley connecting the Unit block of South Adams with the 400 block of Monroe Drive.
The fees will not become effective until after a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued for the public parking garage that will be constructed at 47 N. Adams Drive, the ordinance says.
In 2015, a parking study commissioned by the city showed a deficit of 320 spaces in the vicinity of St. Armands Circle. On Nov. 16, 2015, the City Commission adopted a resolution calling for the collection of a special assessment on properties in the Commercial Tourist Zone District abutting St. Armands Circle to fund part of the debt service and operating expenses for the garage; it is expected to bring in about $260,000 a year. City Finance Director John Lege estimated the cost of the garage at $14,910,865; and staff proposed a city issue a bond to pay for it. With debt service, Lege said, the total expense over the full 20 years of the bond would be about $22 million.
Debating the fees
When Commissioner Liz Alpert asked on May 2 why he chose to exclude weekends in the plan for paid parking on the streets and in the Fillmore lot, Lyons replied that a consultant’s analysis showed implementing the plan for the designated hours Monday through Friday “would be sufficient to achieve the revenues that are needed.”
“Just was curious,” she said.
After Alpert made the motion to approve the resolution on its first reading, Freeland Eddie raised her concerns.
The data the analysis had provided did not convince her that sufficient revenue would be raised from the parking fees, she told Lyons. She did not feel enough of the customers who shop on St. Armands had been surveyed, she added.
“We are running at a deficit at State Street,” she pointed out, referring to the new public garage that opened last fall in downtown Sarasota. “We don’t have a roadmap that ensures that this project is going to be in the green for a period of 20 years,” she said of the St. Armands facility.
Furthermore, Freeland Eddie continued, she felt staff should have proposed phasing in the paid program on St. Armands. People have indicated to her that they will just park outside the metered areas, she told Lyons.
After Commissioner Susan Chapman clarified that the resolution the board was addressing that evening just set the fee structure, Freeland Eddie asked whether the fees could be changed.
“This is not the point of no return yet,” Deputy City Attorney Mike Connelly explained. On May 16, he pointed out, when the City Commission votes on a second reading of the assessments and approves the bond revenue resolution for the project, those will be the final steps in the process.
“But nothing’s going to change between now and then,” Eddie responded.
“I agree,” Connelly told her.
“There can be adjustments to the fee structure?” Alpert asked.
That is correct, Lyons replied.
Therefore, Alpert asked, the commission could raise the fees or extend the hours for paid parking if those actions prove necessary to generate more revenue?
That is true, Lyons responded.
“But when people don’t park there, and we raise the rates, how does that encourage people to park there?” Freeland Eddie pointed out.
“Well, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest … that that’s the model or track that we would want to be on,” Lyons told her. Projections from the analysis “are very strong,” he added, consistent with a 2013 study of St. Armands parking and parking space utilization data from the past several years.
He added that he would not anticipate a rate increase being necessary.
“It only works if we get the numbers,” Freeland Eddie replied. “In two weeks, this is it, and we are bound.”
When she then asked whether Lyons planned additional surveys between the May 2 discussion and the votes scheduled for May 16, he said, “No. There’s no action plan at this point in time,” with four weeks of study already having been undertaken.
Given the increasing density in the city and projections for continued growth, Lyons added, he felt the revenue projections would stand.
“It doesn’t seem like an unreasonably high amount of money,” Alpert said of the parking fee proposal. Given the type of shopping district St. Armands is, she continued, she felt the hourly rates would not prohibit people from using the metered spaces and the garage. “It seems eminently fair.”
Then Mayor Willie Shaw called for the vote, which was 4-1.