TAMPA — Time has run out for on-street parking meters in Ybor City.
Over the next few months, the city plans to replace them with free spaces with a two-hour limit, Mayor Pam Iorio announced Tuesday.
The switch will create more than 200 free parking spaces on Ybor City streets and is designed to boost business.
"I think it will help bring more people to Ybor City," Iorio said. "It will help particularly with the lunch and dinner crowds."
People visiting Ybor for meals or shopping trips often end up staying longer than they expected and return to their cars to find tickets, she said.
"It does spoil what otherwise would be a great night," she said.
Vince Pardo, manager of Ybor City Development Corp., said on-street parking enforcement will also become less aggressive.
"The complaints we heard were, "The flag just went up, and I got a ticket. Were they waiting for the flag?' " he said.
Plans call for reducing the number of people monitoring spaces, and providing customer service training to those who remain, he said.
Tom Keating, president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, said people often get tickets because the meters don't work or it isn't clear what days and times the meters are enforced.
"It's just too complicated and people make mistakes," he said. "People come here to have a good time and occasionally they will get a ticket, and that is a bad experience, particularly when you're on vacation."
The city will continue to operate two parking garages and metered lots in the historic district that has evolved into a hub of night clubs, restaurants and shops.
Problems with parking and concerns about crime are the two biggest issues facing economic development in Ybor City, Keating said.
"Business in Ybor is slow. Very slow," said Carrie West, a member of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and owner of MC Film Festival, a gift shop on 15th Street at Eighth Avenue. "We're just trying to get people motivated to come down here."
He welcomed Iorio's announcement about the elimination of the parking meters.
"We're dancing in the streets right now," he said. "This is going to help our businesses a lot."
West said customers often drop a quarter in a meter, thinking they'll be in his store for just 20 minutes or so, but then linger and end up with a parking ticket.
Sharon Rose, owner of the wearable art store Mermaid's Slipper on 19th Street, said she has had similar complaints.
"My customers have gotten tickets just because they've run in to get a quarter from me and by the time they get back out they have a ticket," she said.
Iorio said eliminating the meters will cost the city about $200,000 a year, but the revenue should be made up in part by reducing parking enforcement personnel in Ybor City.
"The real key here is the business owners have got to have a solid message to their employees that they can't park there," she said. "As long as they do that, this will be successful."
Janet Zink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3401.