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Merchants in downtown St. Petersburg give thumbs-up to mayor's parking plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Carl Riché blames the debut of the coin-eating contraptions along Beach Drive nearly two years ago for a drop in morning customers at his Paciugo Gelato & Caffe.

Still, he supports Mayor Bill Foster's new parking enforcement plan, which doesn't eliminate meters but does limit the hours in which they are enforced.

"I'd like to see no meters," Riché said. "But I'm in favor of the changes. This is very good."

Foster is betting on that sentiment, having made limiting parking enforcement one of his campaign promises. On Friday, he announced details of his new plan. While he backed away from enforcing meters only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the proposed changes are significant.

They include:

• Delaying enforcement of downtown's 1,450 meters by an hour, so they start at 9 a.m. The change would cost the city about $27,000 a year, said Evan Mory, the city's parking division manager.

• Reducing enforcement of about 400 waterfront meters that now enforce up to 11 p.m. Starting in June, they'd be free after 8 p.m., which would cost the city about $385,000 a year, Mory said.

• Extending the amount of free time for unmetered spaces around BayWalk from 90 minutes to two hours and stop enforcement at 10 p.m., rather than midnight, which Mory said should cost about $27,000.

• Granting amnesty to people who get tickets in a trial program that will run between June and August. This would forgive any tickets for first-time violators who can show they were never ticketed by the city before, that their vehicle has never been ticketed, and, on the date of the ticket, if they bought anything downtown that cost more than $25. An analysis last year by the Times showed an amnesty program could cost the city more than $640,000 in its first year.

• Increase meter rates from 25 cents per half hour to 25 cents per 20 minutes by June 1. The hourly rate would climb from 50 cents to 75 cents. Mory said the increase would produce enough revenue to make up for the other changes in the plan. It's also comparable to what other cities charge. Clearwater Beach charges $2 an hour, Tampa $1.50 an hour, St. Pete Beach $1.25 an hour, and Treasure Island $1 an hour.

• Provide easier payment of meters for motorists. Those parking at meters will find a 1-800 number on a sticker attached to the meter. If they don't have enough coins, they can pay by calling the number. An operator will take a credit card number, which can be used to pay the meter. An account is created for each credit card number, so paying the meter in follow-up visits becomes easier. Mory said a vendor will be hired to take credit card orders. He said each transaction will cost the motorist about 25 cents.

The changes have drawn wide support among downtown merchants who traditionally are the most sensitive to any tweaks in parking.

"It's not perfect, but I'm very pleased," said Tom Sexauer, president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Business Association. "Amnesty on the first ticket? How much more friendly can you be?"

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

. fast facts

Still a good deal

Even with the changes, St. Petersburg's parking rates would still be among the cheapest around. Here's a look at hourly rates.

St. Petersburg: $0.75

(starting June 1)

Clearwater Beach: $2

Tampa: $1.50

St. Pete Beach: $1.25

Treasure Island: $1

Merchants in downtown St. Petersburg give thumbs-up to mayor's parking plan 04/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 5:29pm]

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