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With paid parking here to stay, Dunedin looks to new chapter

By Tracey McManus
Visitors to downtown Dunedin use a kiosk to pay for parking on Main Street recently. Parking has been a divisive issue, but officials and residents appear ready to move on as the city prepares to finalize a parking plan in January. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

DUNEDIN —The 14 months of downtown’s paid parking trial have been filled with fierce public discussion, vitriolic social media debates, a deluge of feedback to elected officials and certainty that no issue has ever consumed city staff or residents quite like this one.

Now that the City Commission voted last week to permanently continue a scaled-down version of paid parking, can Dunedin turn a new chapter?

"We all want to build up the public faith and trust in us," Mayor Julie Ward Bujalksi said. "There has been so much negativity on social media, in emails and everything on both sides, really. I would like to see some of that diminish."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: No easy answer to the Dunedin parking question

The permanent plan removes paid parking along Main Street from Bass Boulevard to Marina Plaza Drive, replacing it with free, three-hour limits from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Paid parking will be $1.50 an hour and limited to the Douglas Avenue parking garage, the city-owned lot on Wood Street and the Marina Plaza lot all day on weekends and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on week days.

City Manager Jennifer Bramley expects the scaled-down system to bring in $36,459 in revenue, which can be used only for parking-related expenses, like maintenance of the Douglas garage and expenses for a future garage. After costs, the city made $399,000 from the year-long trial program, which covered much of the downtown footprint.

At a meeting earlier this month, planning director Greg Rice suggested the city would need revenue from a permanent parking program to fund beautification and infrastructure improvements in the downtown core because the Community Redevelopment Agency budget that would normally pay for those upgrades will be mostly consumed by funding a future parking garage.

But after the commission accepted the narrower plan last week with its revenue restricted to parking needs, CRA Director Bob Ironsmith said he is not concerned.

"In this scenario, the parking revenue that’s obtained is going to offset operational costs, and the CRA can carry forth with public beautification elements," Ironsmith said.

Details like how three-hour limits on Main Street will be effectively enforced will be finalized by the commission at the end of January.

Until then, the city has continued it’s holiday promotion offering free parking in all of downtown.

Just remember, it won’t last.

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.