Many of the annoyances associated with parking in downtown St. Petersburg will be alleviated by a new parking plan announced last week by Mayor Bill Foster. The plan balances the needs of businesses with those of downtown visitors without sacrificing too much city revenue.
Among the changes: Enforcement of metered parking will begin at 9 a.m. rather than 8 a.m.; meter enforcement will end at 8 p.m. rather than 11 p.m. along the downtown waterfront; around BayWalk, enforcement will end at 10 p.m. rather than midnight. And all 90-minute and one-hour spaces will be extended to two hours.
Those changes will bring a bit more consistency to the hodgepodge of metered parking regulations downtown, though some people still may be confused when parking enforcement ends at 8 p.m. along Beach Drive but continues until 10 p.m. just blocks away at BayWalk.
Some other changes should be heralded by motorists who find themselves without coins to feed the meters. If they have a cell phone and credit card, they will be able to call a toll-free number and, for a small charge, use a credit card to pay the parking fee. They can even receive a call or text message on their cell phone when their meter is about to expire.
Got a ticket anyway? From June through August, the city will try out a one-time amnesty program — what Foster called "a free oops" — that would erase the overtime parking fine for those with a qualifying downtown business receipt who have no previous meter citations.
In hopes of discouraging downtown employees from filling up street parking spaces, Foster's plan also offers discounted monthly parking rates on the roofs of the South Core and BayWalk garages for downtown businesses that provide parking for their employees.
However, visitors to downtown will pay more for street parking under Foster's plan — 75 cents per hour rather than the current 50 cents.
The increase was necessary to recover the parking revenue that will be lost because of the other changes. The city already faces a shortfall in its 2011 budget of more than $10 million because of falling property values and other revenue declines, so it could ill afford the loss of parking proceeds.
Most of Foster's plan takes effect on or after June 1. The plan falls short of his campaign promise to enforce parking time limits only until 5 or 6 p.m. downtown, but reality often intrudes after candidates attain office. Foster found that while meters and time limits were unpopular with visitors, many downtown merchants liked them because they forced turnover of spaces.
The mayor's plan is a compromise that will maintain turnover of spaces for merchants' customers, offer new conveniences for motorists, and still protect the city's parking revenue stream.