Valet parking seems to be all the rage along trendy Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg.
But the calls I get from downtown visitors suggest that some motorists think it only adds to parking problems in an already-congested area.
I decided to check it out.
I circled Beach Drive between Fifth and Second avenues for 20 minutes on a Friday evening. Finally, I saw an opening — a motorist pulling out of a metered parking space near a popular dining establishment.
I thought the parking gods were smiling on me — until I saw the "valet parking only" sign. I wondered, is that legal?
Back in April, Mayor Bill Foster made sweeping changes to city parking schedules, including an increase in the metered parking rate from 50 cents to 75 cents an hour. Soon after, valet parking started popping up outside several popular dining establishments along Beach Drive.
It's easy to figure out which business offers the service: Just look for the large, colorful, trendy umbrellas along the sidewalks (Cassis, Bella Brava, Parkshore Grill and 400 Beach Seafood and Tap House).
Does that mean these restaurants are co-opting parking spaces?
I called Joe Kubicki, the city's transportation and parking management director, to clear things up.
"First of all, they (business owners) pay for the right to have those meters on a linear-foot basis," he said. "They pay for the value of those parking meters."
Those spaces are used as a drop-off and pick-up spot for restaurant customers, whose vehicles are parked in nearby garages, he said. "By allowing them to use those parking spaces, we free up a number of other spaces" nearby.
So how are the permits issued?
According to Kubicki, nearby businesses along the street must agree, so an establishment seeking a permit must do a survey and have written approval from a majority of businesses along a particular block.
Then the owner submits an application, pays a $100 fee and submits a plan on how the valet parking will be managed. If successful, a one-year permit is issued.
According to Kubicki, the business pays $2 per parking spot, per day.
Let's see if I have this right. Business owners pay $2 per day, per parking space, while everyone else pays 75 cents per hour?
So if I parked on Beach Drive from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., I'd have to feed the meter $9 each day, which comes out to $3,285 annually. Meanwhile businesses are paying $730 per space, per year.
Does this strike anybody else as odd, or is it just me?
Leaders excited about arts centers' merger
The recent merger of the PinkCricket Center for Arts Education and the Gulfcoast Academy of Performing Arts Inc. could be a win-win for the arts community in south Pinellas County.
The PinkCricket, a youth arts center in downtown St. Petersburg, closed its doors in September after months of financial struggles.
The GAPA, at 290 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, which recently made a few organizational changes (including changing its name from Soulful Arts Dance Academy Inc.), was facing similar struggles.
The two groups realized there was an opportunity to help each other, and an alliance was formed.
"It has been tumultuous two months," said Sara Turner, executive director of the PinkCricket. "After reading stories in the Times, Charlotte Quandt (of GAPA) called and we had a three-hour chat about the struggles we were both having. We also talked about our goals."
It became obvious that the merger would be a great fit.
"We're basically folding our programs into Gulfcoast's," Turner said. "Cricket (Jennifer Brendel-Howell) and I are joining the GAPA's staff. The PinkCricket will continue doing community events. It just made more sense to fold the program into Gulfcoast's programming.
"It's not a matter of one organization rescuing the other, but rather finding our strengths and helping each other," she said. "We were both struggling, and now we can offer programming that will attract a wider range of students."
St. Pete Beach board position might reopen
St. Pete Beach Mayor Mike Finnerty recently fired a political appointee upon learning he had decided to oppose the mayor in the March 2011 election.
Steve McFarlin was appointed by Finnerty two years ago to serve on the city's Board of Adjustment.
On Monday, Finnerty replaced McFarlin with Thomas K. de Yampert, who owns numerous rental properties in St. Pete Beach.
Now it looks like Finnerty may have to find somebody else.
On Wednesday, de Yampert resigned as the city of St. Petersburg's manager of housing and community development. The resignation came a week before the anticipated release of an audit analyzing the city's above-market purchase of a home owned by the aunt of senior administrator Goliath Davis.
In his letter of resignation, de Yampert said he wanted to spend more time overseeing his rental properties. He also hinted that he might resign his new post with St. Pete Beach in an effort to avoid a power struggle in that city.
Sandra J. Gadsden is the assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8874.