A Message From Our Chairman – August/September 2016

Parking Meters—the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

In recent months, the return of paid parking to downtown Sarasota has ­become one of the city’s most ­debated and controversial issues.

Ron Soto, SDMA's Chairman

Ron Soto, SDMA’s Chairman

Right now, I am in a precarious position, ­because, personally, I think that parking ­meters may have certain advantages in downtown Sarasota. It will, for example, ­eliminate ­employee parking on downtown’s streets and ­avenues, thus leaving parking ­spaces open for our customers. Parking meters also create an ­ongoing turnover of ­spaces so more visitors can access parking in close ­proximity to their dining, retail and service destinations.

When the meters were installed several years ago, I actually ­experienced an uptake in business at Soto’s Optical Boutique, ­although I do admit that it was labor intensive teaching customers how to ­properly use the meters on a day-to-day basis.

But I do understand how paid parking can hurt or hinder many of our downtown businesses, such as our coffee shops, boutiques and ­collectible stores, that are dependent on foot traffic for daily sales.

As the chairman of the SDMA, I am well aware that as of right now, 80 percent of our downtown merchants have adamantly ­indicated that they do not want paid parking downtown.

Consequently, majority opinion rules, and I will do whatever is possible to delay or deter the installation of meters on our merchants’ behalf.

Like many of you, I have been a longtime supporter of paid ­parking at our beaches. Each year, thousands of people come from around the world to experience our beautiful beaches, and it is my belief that the beach-goers or tourists—and not our customers—should pay parking fees to ­generate revenue for the city of Sarasota.

Despite merchant objections, the City Commission is on a fast track to install meters on Main Street and Palm Avenue by the spring of 2017.

According to Mark Lyons, the city’s parking manager, parking in the city’s garages will remain free—except for citywide events—for now.

It is my hope that the parking garages always will remain free of charge or, at the very least, until all of the meters have been installed throughout downtown Sarasota and in the Southside Shopping Plaza and St. Armands Circle. We all must operate on the same plane in order for the new paid parking program to be successful.
We have been assured by the parking department that there will be an opportunity for merchants to test the meters prior to their installation. Several “smart” models that offer payment by coins and credit cards or via cell phones, as well as merchant advertising and/or wayfinding signage, will be on display for review. All SDMA members should take advantage of this ­opportunity to have a voice in the final decision.

We also have been told that provisions will be made to install several short-term parking spaces on every block to enable ­customers to park for 10 or 15 minutes for quick pick-ups or drop-offs at local merchants.

In conclusion, the thing that is needed most if—or when—the city begins installing parking meters in downtown Sarasota is ongoing and effective communication between the city and the merchants to make sure that the new paid parking program is implemented smoothly and efficiently, without any disruption in business. Lack of communication was among the many issues that made the city’s last attempt to install parking meters such an unsuccessful and frustrating experience.

Please weigh in! I would love to hear your comments about parking meters in downtown Sarasota, and I ­encourage you to voice your ­opinion by clicking here to send an e-mail to sdmavoice@gmail.com.

 

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