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Tampa Bay Rays' success creates parking void for some small businesses

Pat and Claudia Jennings, with their dog Luna, moved Central Art Supply Co. a mile west from the Dome District to the growing Grand Central District along Central Avenue, in part, because of a lack of parking.

LARA CERRI | Times

Pat and Claudia Jennings, with their dog Luna, moved Central Art Supply Co. a mile west from the Dome District to the growing Grand Central District along Central Avenue, in part, because of a lack of parking.

ST. PETERSBURG — It's becoming more apparent that last season's success of the Tampa Bay Rays didn't spread to all of the team's neighbors.

You would think Rays fans would have bought poster boards and marking pens for crafting all those fan signs at Tropicana Field.

"In three years, we sold three of these to baseball fans," said Pat Jennings of Central Art Supply Co., holding a Sharpie.

Then there was parking, which was scarce during home games and forced him to close for days at a time. And rowdy customers, not always Boston fans, who only wanted to use his restroom.

Lack of synergy with Tropicana Field was a major factor in Jennings' decision not to renew his lease at 1114 Central Ave., where the largest artist supply store in the county had made its home since 2002.

To be sure, overhead costs were also a factor. Jennings and his wife, Claudia Strano Jennings, moved the business to 2429 Central Ave. in the Grand Central District, where he pays 30 percent less per square foot.

Some see signs of trouble in Jennings' departure.

Call it the cost of gaining worldwide recognition for St. Petersburg, but some say that as the Rays have gotten better, many small businesses in the shadow of Tropicana Field have found it difficult to hit it out of the ballpark. Bars and restaurants may be benefiting, but other businesses are not.

Lack of parking is among their top concerns.

"Whatever day the game is, it's an impossibility to park," said Donald Biglands, who owns and runs Agnis Godfrey Antiques and Collectibles, at 1045 Central Ave.

In the antiquing business, weekends are prime time for shoppers. But it just so happens that the two-hour time limit on parking is enforced less on Saturdays and Sundays, Biglands said. His business has no reserve spots. And many fans are willing to pay the $25 overtime parking ticket.

"Sometimes I will close," Biglands said. "What else am I going to do?"

John Warren, a longtime owner and proponent of the area's development, said he remembers half a dozen businesses, including restaurants, that came to the Dome District with solid business plans but left after weathering tough seasons with baseball.

Warren, who owns Savannah's Cafe, says the parking problem can be traced back to the city's lack of a cohesive plan for the Dome District. A study commissioned by the city years ago determined that parking was lacking in the area.

"Nobody wants anything but the best for the Rays at this time," Warren said, "and yet supporting the Rays shouldn't preclude supporting the community and its needs."

In its defense, the city says it is working to create more parking in and around the stadium. There are 7,000 spots in the stadium lots, but games can draw three or four times as many people.

The city is continuing a program that allows businesses to use their empty lots for paid parking. Fifty businesses got approval so far this year, said Joe Kubicki, the city's transportation director, nearly double the amount last year. And the city is promoting its downtown parking lots, which cost $5 and are accessible by a free shuttle on game days.

Not all businesses are complaining about the stadium traffic. Julie Karikas, owner of the Designer Exchange consignment store, which has two locations, including one at 1038 Central Ave., said: "I think that anything that brings people downtown is a good thing."

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

Tampa Bay Rays' success creates parking void for some small businesses 04/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 4:47pm]
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