City officials are continuing to evaluate their downtown pilot parking program, which includes free and paid parking areas.
DUNEDIN – Continued development in the city of Dunedin may give rise to a second parking garage downtown.
Dunedin officials consider four to five of their parking lot leases to be unstable, raising concerns at the City Commission’s April 20 meeting about an eventual shortage of parking spaces.
Manager Julie Ward Bujalski asked staff to provide estimates on the cost of building a one-deck garage on the city’s parking lot at 500 Wood St.
She wants to be able to understand staff’s findings before the commissioners are asked to make a decision in September on whether to continue their parking pilot program, which took effect in October.
The lot has about 225 spaces that could nearly double after the second level is added.
“It could be 175 and 175. We don’t know because there is going to be a ramp. But it’s still more than we have,” she said.
City Housing and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith said city officials will provide information pertaining to establishing a garage on the Wood Street lot, an issue that has come up in other discussions. Construction is underway on a mixed-use development on Douglas Avenue that includes a parking garage.
Commissioner Moe Freaney agreed that a garage should be considered, expressing concern about the city losing spaces before they can add more parking stock.
“I’m actually totally on board, mayor, with your comment that it’s time to start talking about where we put the garage. What it would be like. How much it’s going to cost,” she said.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes urged caution in plans for a garage, emphasizing the need to consider architecture of the garage.
She used Winter Park as an example of a city with an aesthetically pleasing garage.
“And they are so melded that you would walk right by and think it was a restaurant. You would think it was retail. It is so wonderfully melded into that surrounding area,” Kynes said.
The discussion stems from the quarterly review of the one-year pilot program, which was changed in early February to include more free parking areas. Other changes include eliminating time limits.
In September the City Commission established $200,000 of net revenues as a minimum expectation for the parking program during the pilot year. The net revenue for the first six months was more than $195,000.
“Performance measures have been good,” Ironsmith said.
Commissioners addressed ways to improve customer service and discussed reducing fines for first-time parking ticket recipients.
Commissioner Heather Gracy asked staff to work on the ambassadorial approach to dealing with people who park downtown
“I’m not going to tell you all how to do your jobs,” she said, “but customer service has to be impeccable.”
Ward Bujalski agreed, saying that many people don’t understand the changes that have been made to the parking program despite how good efforts have been to inform the public about it.
She suggested that notes be left on vehicle windows telling visitors that parking enforcement officers are giving them a break because the city wants them to come back.
“I don’t think there is any amount of money that we could earn that is more important than that,” she said. “I don’t think we should make all our decisions based on the almighty red cent we are going to earn,” she said.
Dunedin Communications Director Courtney King said feedback from the public has been more positive in the second quarter of the program. The revised plan is called 2.0.
“Since we did the 2.0 update, personally I can say we received very few negative emails and comments compared to the first quarter,” King said.
As they have from the inception of the program, some residents continue to speak out against the pilot program.
Dennis McGreen said comments presented that night were “kind of vague, not very scientific.”
“If you’re wondering what it is that the people think about parking, why don’t use ask them? Why don’t you have a referendum?” he said.
Though he thanked the commission on having the foresight to look at the parking problem, John Ghidiu said he was hearing anecdotal information. He suggested an unbiased survey be conducted to determine what residents and businesses want pertaining to the issue.
Marcia Sutton said she belongs to several organizations and many members said they haven’t been coming to Dunedin since paid parking was started.
“They are going to Safety Harbor. They are going to Ozona for dinner because the parking is free. They are not coming back to Dunedin,” she said. “That’s what worries me – who is not coming?”
Finance Board Chairman David Loeffert said the board reviewed reports on the pilot program and acknowledged the success of it during the second quarter, stemming from good weather, a recovering economy, a strong tourism season and the Blue Jays spring training games.
“We are not quite ready to share in the exhilaration of the information at this point because we need to go through the dog days of summer,” he said.
The Finance Board recommended the city complete the program so officials will have a better idea if it is effective. For the most part, that’s the position city commissioners have been taking.
“I think at this point it’s very important for us to play the plot out and continue to listen to the residents,” Freaney said.
Commissioner John Tornga said staff has done all that the commission has asked it to do.
“It’s (the program) not something we are trying to do to cause a problem; it’s something we are doing to try to give a solution to an issue. The issue is what happens if in fact if some of these spots are to go?” Tornga said.
Tom Germond is editor of the Dunedin Beacon. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 330, or by email at tgermond@TBNweekly.com.