St. Armands parking garage and start of metered parking program on Circle key facets of city’s Parking Department focus in 2019 fiscal year

Subsidy for FY19 budget to be less than half necessary for 2017 fiscal year, budget shows

A rendering shows the design of the St. Armands parking garage, which is being constructed at the intersection of North Adams Drive and Madison Drive. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Along with implementing metered parking on St. Armands Circle in December and completing the new 500-space parking garage there, the City of Sarasota’s Parking Department staff will be adding another pay station for users of the Palm Avenue parking garage and making minor repairs to that facility in the 2019 fiscal year.

That was the news Mark Lyons, the city’s parking manager, delivered to the City Commission this week as it worked on its 2019 fiscal year budget.

During their regular meeting on July 2, the board members are scheduled to approve an agreement with CALE America Inc. for the St. Armands meters. The paid parking program has been planned to help cover the cost of the new garage, which is set to open by the end of December, Lyons pointed out on June 27.

In response to a question from Mayor Liz Alpert, Lyons reminded the commission that the fee for the St. Armands garage will be 50 cents an hour. The goal, he noted, is to encourage people to park in that facility or in one of the St. Armands surface lots.

City Manager Tom Barwin told the board members that the parking meters CALE America of Clearwater provided for demonstration purposes earlier this year were “vetted extensively with the community” in shade and sunny conditions, to ensure the equipment would not be problematic.

Prior to the city’s last experiment with parking meters on streets in downtown Sarasota — which ended in 2012 — members of the public complained that it was very difficult to use the equipment in bright conditions.

Mark Lyons. File photo

In regard to the St. Armands changes, Lyons explained that staff has budgeted slightly more than $1 million in revenue for the 2019 fiscal year, with a projected fund balance of $123,078 for the St. Armands District. Those finances are completely separate from the rest of his budget, he pointed out.

Staff has taken a conservative tack with the fund balance projection for the first year, he said, until it sees actual data on use of the garage and the metered spaces.

As for the garage: “It’s moving along very nicely,” Lyons told the board.

Early on in his June 27 budget presentation, Lyons and city Finance Director Kelly Strickland noted the continuing challenges of the Parking Department to generate sufficient revenue to support its operations.

As of the end of the 2017 fiscal year — on Sept. 30, 2017 — the Parking Department had a fund balance of $785,457, Strickland said. At the end of the current fiscal year, she continued, the amount is expected to be $593,566. The difference between revenue and expenses for the department this fiscal year, Lyons noted, is expected to be $633,912.

However, because of the fund balance, Strickland said, the FY19 budget includes a subsidy of only $230,000. That is down from $625,000 in the 2017 fiscal year and $300,000 budgeted for the current fiscal year.

When the Parking Department began charging for use of the Palm Avenue and State Street garages in mid-January, Barwin pointed out, the Parking Department staff also was able to start collecting data on that usage. The hope, he continued, is that analysis of that information will assist city staff in coming up with strategies to eliminate the subsidies in the future.

In response to a question from Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, Lyons said, “State Street’s doing quite well. … Turnover’s very high in the first few hours [of the day].”

The first three hours in both that garage and the one on Palm Avenue are free. After that period, the fee is $3 for the first hour and $1 for each subsequent hour. However, the maximum charge for 24 hours is $23, Lyons explained to the commissioners in December 2017, when they voted 4-1 to approve the parking program. (Then-Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie opposed the plan to charge garage users.)

More capital expenses

The Palm Avenue garage is near the intersection of Palm and Cocoanut avenues. File photo

In regard to the upcoming work at the Palm Avenue garage, Lyons noted that members of the public had requested another pay station for use on foot, to eliminate lines of vehicles at the exits. That expense has been put at $42,000.

Those pay stations, he said, enable drivers to avoid “the fumbling of money” as they prepare to drive out of the garage.

Another expense in the FY19 budget for the Palm Avenue facility, he continued, is $10,000 for a decorative railing to promote safety for pedestrians coming out of the facility next to the Art Ovation Hotel.

A note in Lyons’ department’s budget materials says, “The current layout and design of the elevator lobby area of the Palm Avenue parking garage is an open plan. There is open access to the lobby and to the drive lane into the garage. This presents a major safety hazard as people wait for elevators or exit out and are blind to oncoming traffic. Often, after an opera, pedestrians line up, waiting for elevators and they spill out very close and into the driveway.”

The decorative railing, he told the commissioners, would be designed to “funnel the pedestrian traffic more evenly” and reduce the potential for accidents.

One other expense in his FY19 budget is $40,000 for repairs to the slab and sealant in the Palm Avenue garage, which is about eight years old, he noted.

City staff has provided these details about the Parking Department’s budget. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

A note in the budget materials regarding that request says the facility is “showing signs of concrete cracks, water ponding, [spalling] and other corrosive impacts …” Repairs are necessary, the document adds, or “the integrity of the structure will be negatively impacted.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Willie Shaw, Lyons said that the final warranty involving construction of that garage expired at the end of five years.

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown also noted that staff has had to deal with a number of elevator problems in the Palm Avenue facility.

That situation resulted in the city’s replacing the original vendor, Lyons explained. However, the new vendor also has had difficulties, he added. “I’ve been working with elevators for many years,” he said. “I’ve never found any one operation particularly stronger than another.”

He has collaborated with city Purchasing Department staff, he continued, on a new elevator service bid to try to eliminate the problems.

The garage elevators “operate for the most part 20 hours a day,” he pointed out, “and they’re exposed to the elements.” However, he quickly added, “I’m not making excuses for any of our vendors …”

Until the new bid process can be completed, he indicated, city staff has secured an elevator service that has representatives available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Still, he said, “it doesn’t always mean [a breakdown is] repaired immediately.”