CLEARWATER — Now that tempers have cooled between the city and the Clearwater Downtown Merchants Association (DMA) over the best way to tackle parking issues, the city has vowed to introduce new solutions to short-term parking.
While association members are frustrated that the city hasn’t found a way to provide parking outside Cleveland Street restaurants, City Manager Bill Horne said the city will do what it can to improve short-term parking, but restaurant patrons may still have to walk short distances.
“We are going to make some changes regarding the old City Hall parking lot and discuss with council (about) using the former Clearwater Marine Aquarium lot across the street,” Horne said.
Though using existing lots would take short-term parking off the table, “Downtown food and drink patrons will have to walk relatively short distances from parking locations to their eating destination,” Horne said. “Give us a few weeks, and we should have this matter better defined.”
Lina Teixeira, who owns Pour Yours on Cleveland Street, said association members, who own restaurants, bars, retail shops, and other businesses along Cleveland Street and other downtown locations, believe the city hasn’t moved quickly enough to improve parking for business customers. She also lauded a growing tech jobs sector that will require more parking.
“There are things we can do right now that don’t involve big commitments, short-term parking solutions that don’t require negotiations with private partners, and wayfinding we can do now, communicating to customers the location of the parking that’s available,” she said. “The third category is long-tern, such as creating a concrete plan to replace all the parking lots we’re losing to Imagine Clearwater.”
Imagine Clearwater is the city’s long-term architectural plan to refashion Coachman Park and create a lively downtown to attract thousands of visitors for entertainment, dining, and shopping.
The city has looked closely at the chaos that is parking in downtown Clearwater.
Last year, the city commissioned an analysis of available public and private parking spaces, lots and garages in downtown Clearwater. The result, Kimley-Horn’s “Downtown Redevelopment Area Parking Study,” was released around February. The study, which councilmembers faulted for having incorrect data, has been returned to the consultants for revisions.
That study showed the loss of 692 parking spaces to Imagine Clearwater, a point that wasn’t lost on merchant association members. Horne said the city will eventually build more parking spaces, including a six- or seven-story parking garage to “redress a lack of parking.”
There is a parking garage on Garden Street around the corner from Cleveland Street restaurants, but drivers can’t find those spaces easily, Teixeira said.
“It is confusing. There is parking available by day only, some parking available only at night, so we need better wayfinding,” she said.
City Councilmember David Allbritton, who served on the Downtown Development Board for years, agrees parking signage must be improved. Cleveland Street used to have parking along its length, but the city turned it into a pedestrian mall to divert beach traffic to Court Street years ago, he said.
“It’s a matter of pointing people to the garages for parking,” Allbritton said. “That’s been a problem for people not from downtown. They don’t know what parking they can use and can’t use.”
Allbritton, however, does not want to restore Cleveland Street parking.
“I like the architecture of Cleveland Street the way it is,” he said. “You can park customers a block away; they will park as long as they see the back entrance and the front entrance of the restaurants and stores they’re going to.”
A couple of DMA members, upset that the parking study indicated the loss of hundreds of parking spaces, erupted at an April meeting where Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell and other city staff tried to explain options for re-engineering downtown parking. Though Horne wrote the City Council in an email that DMA members shouted at city staff, Teixeira denied anyone yelled.
“We became frustrated when there was no presentation on parking, we expected to hear one but it didn’t occur,” Teixeira said. “We also expected more concrete information but none was given, none of our questions were directly answered.”
Solving parking requires moving many pieces, Maxwell told the Beacon.
“There are still so many moving parts we have to consider, such as where the city-county joint use facility will be built, the timing for City Hall to be demolished, and other parts,” he said. “I tried to explain that but folks at that meeting kept saying they wanted answers ‘now, now.’”
Such planning, Horne repeated, includes considering using the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority transfer station, the joint use facility, City Hall and other large projects.
In the meantime, the staff will return to DMA meetings and answer questions, Horne said.
“Our staff will continue attending meetings at DMA request with the understanding that we will leave the meeting if verbally harassed by DMA members or guests,” Horne said. “Lina is a wonderful person and business owner. She is in a difficult spot and has been a friend to both the city staff and her DMA peers.”