ST. PETERSBURG — City officials are meeting today to discuss whether to tweak rules about temporary parking lots after more than a dozen Rays fans were towed from a legitimately permitted lot on opening day.
Fourteen people parked in Lot 79, located at the southeast corner of First Avenue N and 15th Street, between 2 and 3 p.m. Friday, police said. All believed the private lot, listed on the city's map as approved for special events, was official. All found their cars gone when the game was over and had to pay about $100 to get them back.
Police say A-1 Recovery Inc. towed the cars on the orders of the property manager, Mike Shinshoni, who told officials he had no idea it was listed as a Rays parking lot. Officials determined a previous tenant, who had a scooter repair business at the property until being evicted a few months ago, had obtained the special events parking permit in 2009. No one had notified the city the permit was no longer needed or wanted.
"I can understand why these people are upset," said A-1 Recovery Inc. owner Aaron Watkins. "But I don't want this coming back on me. I was just doing the job I was supposed to."
Representatives from four city departments — codes; police; transportation and parking; and planning and economic development — will meet today to "discuss potential actions that could discourage the same sort of incident from occurring in the future," said parking manager Evan Mory.
Police also have opened a fraud investigation and are looking for the people who posed as parking attendants and pocketed $20 from drivers. "Clearly the people who did this did not have the authorization of the property manager," police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
Mory said officials had been considering changing the permitting process even before this.
Currently those seeking to get on the city's list of approved private lots for special events at Tropicana Field pay a $200 one time fee for a permit and a sign. But officials are thinking about changing it to an annual pass that would need to be renewed each year, Mory said.
The city does not have an explicit rule saying the permit holder must contact the city if they are no longer using the permit. But Mory said it should be common sense that a permit holder would do that.
The city had just a handful of these lots a few years ago; now there are about 100 of them, Mory said.
Officials patrol around the stadium during games, but they usually look for people operating lots without a permit, he said.
In addition, Mory said, the city code regarding the permit says that if the parking lot isn't in use for an event at the Trop, the "property owner, tenant or operator" must barricade the entrances and put up a sign saying the lot is closed.
"This was an action the city took to try to keep something like this from happening," he said.
One of the towed fans, Jon Bauer, 40, of Tarpon Springs, just hopes police find the fake parking attendants. Vehicle owners described them as a white woman in her late 30s with curly brown hair pulled into a ponytail; and the other as an older white man with a long scar on his leg.
"We got scammed," Bauer said. "It was just a fiasco."
Bauer said he has parked at the lot for the past three years and has called the scooter shop owner ahead of time to save a spot. But this year, the owner never called back, Bauer said.
Police gave Bauer and the other towed drivers rides to retrieve their cars that night, and a city crew removed the special event sign from the parking lot the next morning, Mory said.
On Tuesday, the city scrubbed the lot from its map.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.