ST. PETERSBURG — Hoping to ease parking woes created by the Tampa Bay Rays' newfound success, the City Council took a tentative step last week to make it easier for property owners to open new parking lots.
The council approved a temporary ordinance to exempt certain drainage and landscaping requirements for commercial parking lots near Tropicana Field. The council needs to approve the ordinance again at its meeting Aug. 21 before it takes effect.
Unlike in Tampa, where residents regularly open their yards to football fans heading to Raymond James Stadium, it is illegal in St. Petersburg to charge people to park without a city permit.
Property owners who want to temporarily rent out parking spaces must pay a $200 fee, and the property must meet design standards.
After several people complained that they should be allowed to use their property as they saw fit, City Council member Karl Nurse suggested the temporary exemptions. The ordinance would expire Dec. 31.
Tropicana Field has 7,000 parking spaces. The city has issued permits for at least 2,000 spaces on private property near the stadium.
That's not nearly enough to meet the needs of the more than 25,000 fans who have been showing up at games to see the Rays beat the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs this season.
"Whoever would have thought 20,000 people would have shown up on a Wednesday?" said council member Herb Polson.
The city has issued 28 permits for temporary parking lots near Tropicana Field, up from 18 last year.
The temporary exemptions should pave the way for more lots, although no one has inquired about a permit since the ordinance was passed, said Julie Weston, the city's director of economic development.
"I expect I will have to go out and let people know about it," she said.
Loyd Tomlinson, who owns Simple Living at 1100 First Ave. N, decided to rent out his parking lot to Rays fans after he arrived at his property one day and discovered that some of his employees were charging fans to park without his consent.
But he opted against filling out an application for temporary parking once he discovered he would most likely have to spend $1,500 on landscaping to meet the requirements. The city warned him that he could be fined if caught letting fans park on his property without a permit.
The exemptions "are a fine compromise," he said. "I don't mind paying for the permit as long as I don't have to spend anything on landscaping."
But John Warren, who owns Savannah's Cafe on Central Avenue, said the city needs to get rid of the entire permit process before next season.
"Property owners should be allowed to use their lots for parking as they feel inclined," he said.
Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.