Tampa cracks down on Ybor parking lots

Published July 17, 1999|Updated Sept. 29, 2005

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

The city says it's trying to make the area safer, but some lot owners believe the rules will drive them out of business.

Police ticket Ybor City parking attendants practicing the time-honored tactic of waving customers into their lots. Code enforcement officials warn lot owners to get their dirt lots smoothed out and to otherwise get in line with city rules. City Council members prepare to demand lights and full-time attendants at three dozen private lots around the Seventh Avenue bar strip.

City officials say they're just trying to make parking-starved Ybor a safer, friendlier place for the estimated 20,000 visitors who jam the district on weekend nights.

A few lot operators and attendants grumble that there's a more sinister motive: to snuff out competition to city-owned lots and a 1,200-space garage due to open in Ybor this fall.

"The city's in the parking business," said Jamie Rand, who operates two lots south of Seventh Avenue. "They want to run the mom-and-pop lots out. They'll do anything to get people to park in their garage. It appalls me."

Two of his employees were cited by police this month for obstructing a city street as they directed cars into his lot behind Om, a club on 17th Street.

Ian McGeehan said he and another attendant were directing cars from private property off the curb. Officers said they were standing on the public right of way and issued tickets, he said.

Capt. John Garcia, night supervisor for the district that includes Ybor, said officers started warning lot attendants a year ago about waving cars into their lots from the street or city property on the curb.

"We received complaints about people being in the roadway. Officers observed firsthand the flow of traffic being stopped," he said. "Numerous times we warned the individuals . . . we started citing them several months ago, as late as two weeks ago."

Jason Accardi, president of Seven One Seven Parking Services, said about a dozen of his attendants were cited in Ybor and around the Ice Palace.

His only complaints were that police didn't warn him about the problem first and they don't enforce the law elsewhere in the city.

"If they're going to do it, they need to around Busch Gardens, Howard Avenue _ all over town," Accardi said. "Not just at the hot areas like the Ice Palace and Ybor City."

He doesn't buy the idea that the city is trying to hurt private operators to bolster its own business.

Accardi served on a committee that came up with standards for grass or dirt lots on land that owners planned to build on.

City officials recognized it wasn't fair to require the paving, drainage and landscaping for interim lots that codes mandate for permanent lots.

Still, the interim lots must be graded to prevent potholes, have walkways for customers to reach the sidewalk and some shrubs around the perimeter under an ordinance passed last year.

The city couldn't enforce the rules initially because it owned lots that didn't comply, said Jose Fernandez, Tampa's assistant parking manager. The last two of those lots will be up to code in 90 days, he said. The city has issued letters warning lot owners that they must comply now, too.

"If the city had to be held to that standard, we felt the independents should meet at least that minimum," said Jack Rodriguez of the Ybor City Development Corp., a non-profit group that manages city-owned land.

Next on the city's agenda is an ordinance requiring lighting on all lots. Also, attendants would have to be on duty until the 4 a.m. bar closing time, or earlier if the last car has gone.

Police report a rash of car burglaries in Ybor, mostly from lots off Seventh Avenue. From January through May, there were 157 break-ins in the three dozen parking lots that dot the area.

Fliers distributed to restaurants, businesses and lot workers advise drivers to park in lighted areas with attendants. They warn people to lock valuables in their trunks before they arrive in Ybor.

"With more lights and more security, we want to make it as safe as possible," Rodriguez said.

But Rand said buying lights will drive up his costs and lead to higher parking rates.

"It's America," he said. "You pay $8 or $10 if you want a lit, paved lot and $5 for the other lot."

City officials scoff at Rand's charges they're trying to run him out of business.

A parking study commissioned by the city showed there aren't enough spaces to handle weekend evening traffic now. There will be a small surplus when the city garage opens, the study showed, but that is expected to evaporate by next summer.

"We welcome private operators," Fernandez said. "Every time a private operator parks a car, that's one less space the city has to provide for."