CLEARWATER – There is an old joke about a New York City couple that were walking near their home when the wife spotted an empty parking space. She immediately ran to it and stood in it so that nobody else could take it.
“I’ve found an empty parking space,” she gleefully yelled to her husband. “Quick, go buy a car.”
The parking situation on Clearwater Beach isn’t quite that bad. But there are times, especially during spring break, when a vacant parking space is indeed a rare find.
That’s why Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne had Parking Systems Manager Eric Wilson conduct a study of ways to eliminate, or at least lessen, complaints about beach parking.
“The mayor tends to get the brunt of those types of complaints, along with my office,” Horne said.
“Parking has changed tremendously over the past five years,” Wilson told the council at a recent work session. Saying that the current parking situation is “a problem with a solution,” Wilson presented his Beach Parking Overview.
Noting that the city is struggling to meet demand, especially during peak season, he said that the solution is to proactively create new parking opportunities on the beach.
“We’ve got to be creative,” he said. “We’ve got to be smart.”
There are currently 1,170 metered parking spaces on Clearwater Beach. Wilson’s plan would add approximately 220 more.
Some areas slated for new meters are North Mandalay Avenue, the south side of Rockaway Street, Avalon and Kendall streets, Fifth and Hamden Drive, Bayway Boulevard and the marked spaces on Brightwater Drive. Some currently free spaces, where people often park for eight to 16 hours at a time, also would be metered.
For $75 a year, renters on Mandalay Avenue who don’t have on-site parking will be able to purchase a parking permit that will allow them to park in the “first come, first served” spaces at designated lots.
Documented employees of beach businesses will be able to purchase passes that will allow them to park in “first come, first served” spaces in public lots. Wilson proposed charging $40 a month from May to February and $60 a month in March and April, but Mayor George Cretekos and Vice Mayor Paul Gibson said that it should be one flat fee year-round.
For an annual payment of $200 per room, small motels would be able to purchase parking permits for those rooms that don’t have on-site parking. For example, a motel with 15 rooms and only five on-site parking spaces could purchase 10 parking permits for $2,000.
“We’re just trying to help them do business in the city of Clearwater,” Wilson said.
Many rates, which haven’t been raised in a decade, would go up. The new hourly rates would be $1 in Lot 30, $3 in Lots 31 and 32, $2.50 in Lot 36, and $1.25 in Lots 37, 38, 39, and 43.
Lots 33, 34 and 35, which now charge a premium on weekends, will have a $1.25 hourly rate seven days a week. Also, the maximum daily rates will be removed in Lots 31, 32 and 43. All on-street parking will cost $1.25 an hour.
In addition to the rate increases, Wilson suggested placing a 5-hour limit on each space.
Marina parking improvements include resurfacing and storm water improvements, as well as new LED lighting in the north lot.
“The marina (parking lot) is for marina business on a first come, first served basis,” and not a long-term parking area for beachgoers, Wilson said.
He proposed raising marina parking permit fees to $3 for a half-day, $6 for all day, $25 (plus tax) for a month, and $187.50 (plus tax) for a whole year. In addition, he would create 1-hour and 2-hour permits for shoppers at businesses in the marina.
Parking enforcement hours would be extended to 1 a.m. in Lot 43, and to 11 p.m. in Lots 34, 35, 37, 38, and 39. Citation management has been handled by the same company for the past nine years, but Wilson said that he is open to new ideas. As technology improves, he said, he is constantly keeping abreast of things like cell-phone payment and high-tech parking meters.
Horne said that, before making his decision on Wilson’s recommendations, he wants to get feedback from residents, tourism officials and the business community.