There soon will be no need for a mid dinner dash to the car for patrons of Beach Drive restaurants.
The St. Petersburg City Council voted unanimously Thursday to extend on-street, ticket-free parking from 90 minutes to three hours after 7 p.m. between Fifth Avenue N and Central Avenue.
"The Beach Drive restaurants are in real need of this change," council member Virginia Littrell said.
On-street parking on the popular strip is currently restricted to 90 minutes all day. A $17.50 ticket is issued to those caught violating the time restriction.
Suzanne Fisher, a representative of the Downtown Business Association, said the change was necessary to accommodate customers who wanted to enjoy a leisurely dinner.
But they also didn't want to lift all restrictions.
"We don't want people sleeping in their cars out there," she said.
While the change primarily benefits Moon Under Water, a restaurant at 332 Beach Drive, Fisher said other local businesses and organizations will be helped, including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Yacht Club and Mattison's American Bistro.
Philip Oropesa, the city's parking manager, said the expanded time limits will go into effect as soon as new signs can be printed, about 30-45 days.
The total cost to the city, he said, will be approximately $3,500.
City officials opposed the change, saying it will clog the area around BayWalk just when the most people are trying to find parking.
Under the relaxed restrictions, a car could legally be parked on Beach Drive from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m., and then remain in the space for an additional three hours without any penalty, Oropesa said. That will tie up prime parking spaces that could be used by movie theater customers or BayWalk shoppers.
"It's an experiment," he said. "We'll see how it works."
But Mario Jooste, general manager of Moon Under Water, said the 90-minute restriction was driving away his customers.
On a busy Friday night, the wait for a table can stretch for more than 30 minutes.
"So by the time their dinner came, they would have to get up and move their car," Jooste said.
He helped organize the Beach Drive merchants and asked city officials for unlimited parking after 7 p.m.
That wish wasn't granted, but Jooste said he's grateful for what he received.
"Anything will be an improvement," he said.
_ Carrie Johnson can be reached at 892-2273 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.