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Politics / Issues

Paid Parking Returns To 'Prime Spots' In Downtown Sarasota

By Susan Giles Wantuck

There's a long history of business owners pushing back against efforts by the city of Sarasota to put paid parking downtown.

Sarasota Magazine compiled a dateline showing just how far back it goes. In fact, it predates American entry into World War II by about eight months. 

The last time the city of Sarasota tried to put parking meters in was back in the spring of 2011.  They were removed the following year after the public and business owners protested. 

Since then, Sarasota has seen tremendous growth in the business sector, population, and tourism, according to spokeswoman Jan Thornburg. The city now has two parking garages downtown and there's a lot of construction there.

Thornburg said there have been years of discussions about downtown parking. 

"After having a committee that was comprised with residents, and business owners, and parking experts, we with our staff methodically had discussion with all of those stakeholders over the past several years that it's reached the point that there was an agreement that we needed the paid parking again to free up those prime spaces, along Main Street primarily, but also in the Judicial District and Palm Avenue," Thornburg said. 

Shay Atluru is the President of DTC, Inc., which is based in downtown Sarasota. He has lived in Sarasota since 2016 and is the new board chair of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance. He said although he's not familiar with the history of parking issues downtown, he realizes there's "a lot of passion about the parking issue."

"But it's my sincere hope is that people don't come to downtown Sarasota because of free parking," Atluru said. "My hope is that they come down because we have offerings that are fantastic and world-class."

Thornburg stressed that only 11% of the parking in downtown Sarasota, the prime spaces "everyone wants," will be paid parking spots.

"Ninety percent of the parking downtown will remain free," she said.

And perhaps the number one question the city gets on social media has to do with handicap parking.  Thornburg said, "If people have a valid, disabled parking placard and it’s displayed, then they are able to park for free."

Cows parked downtown in Early 20th century Sarasota
Credit City of Sarasota Instagram
No parking issues here! Downtown Sarasota prior to 1913 at Main Street and Palm Avenue.

Thornburg said the pay stations take both debit and credit cards and coins for payment. Drivers may opt to use the ParkMobile app, and if  they have already used the system anywhere in the country, which identifies cars by the license plate, no registration is required. The ParkMobile system is used in the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. 

Drivers may also choose to set up their accounts with the parking system with a phone call.  

Paid parking is being rolled out incrementally in downtown Sarasota, starting in the Judicial District, between North Washington Boulevard and South School Avenue.

Thornburg said the city's parking operations manager will supervise the transition, making sure to work out any kinks before expanding the system to the west in downtown. Initially, city parking employees will be out to help drivers get used to the system. And enforcement will be light for about a week after rollout for each section, but she said, "it's fluid."

Thornburg said all of the revenue for paid parking will fund the city's parking operations.  And she said, this payment for prime parking spots becomes a sort of "user fee." Right now there's a $600,000 tax subsidy for parking-- which will in future go toward funding police, parks and recreation and road upkeep.