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St. Pete Beach may try parking kiosks

Officials vow the machines, similar to those that failed in St. Petersburg, will work in St. Pete Beach.

City officials here may install the same parking pay stations that caused endless grumbles in St. Petersburg last year, but with one important distinction:

This time, beach officials say, the stations will work.

"My first disclaimer is this is not the St. Petersburg system," St. Pete Beach police Lt. Todd Kirchgraber told city commissioners this week.

The disclaimer has become perfunctory whenever Kirchgraber pitches this idea, he said. People are naturally leery because of similarities between the maligned St. Petersburg stations and the 33 modular kiosks the beach is considering buying.

For one thing, St. Pete Beach is chatting with the same company, Schlumberger, that sold the ill-fated, French-made stations to St. Petersburg.

The proposed parking kiosks also appear identical to the 225 solar-powered stations that sprouted along St. Petersburg's streets. One station serves multiple spaces.

These machines' debut cost St. Petersburg $1.57-million, but they were turned off or yanked out after they befuddled users and angered the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' management.

Beach officials promise that their proposed parking stations will be different. At the beach, drivers would find a "Pay and Display" system: You walk to the station, pay with change or dollars, and receive a receipt to display on your dashboard.

St. Petersburg tried a "Park and Pay" system. Drivers had to remember their parking space number and enter it on a keypad. The concept struck out.

St. Pete Beach now could be setting an example for its much larger neighbor. St. Petersburg's remaining stations may also be converted to the "Pay and Display" philosophy, said the city's new parking director, Philip Oropesa.

"It just needs to be done in a simple and easy way. "Keep it simple' is the motto. No telephone keypads or credit card slots," Oropesa said. "But we still have quite a bit of planning to do until we get to that stage."

Meanwhile, a two-person crew has been slowly yanking pay stations from downtown St. Petersburg _ a task that can take an hour per unit.

St. Petersburg is trying to sell back about 110 of its pay stations to Schlumberger at half-price. The city has already returned 60 and still has dozens to remove, so St. Pete Beach could shop for the solar-powered boxes close to home.

But St. Pete Beach officials say they would not buy the tainted machines; it would be a public relations nightmare.

"I might as well resign now if we did that," said St. Pete Beach City Manager Carl Schwing. "We talked about that, but I don't think I can even tell you what we said. Let's just say, there were a few giggles."

Schwing said the beach prefers to buy directly from a manufacturer to receive the latest programming and a long-term warranty.

The beach will test three machines this fall in a county parking lot at 4700 Gulf Blvd. before deciding whether to invest $220,000 to $275,000 to take the stations citywide.

About 1,200 aging mechanical meters would be replaced. Kirchgraber hopes the new stations will save money on maintenance, help beautify the city and make revenue collection simpler. One meter maintenance job may be cut to offset the costs.

Commissioners are waiting for more proof.

"This is a great idea," said Commissioner Jim Myers, "but we'd like to see the test over the next four to six months."

_ Times staff writer Kelly Ryan contributed to this report.

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