Downtown Clearwater parking plentiful, but not alway easy to find

There is an availability of both on-street and off-street parking in downtown Clearwater, but it's not always easy to find, said a consultant. [Times files]
There is an availability of both on-street and off-street parking in downtown Clearwater, but it's not always easy to find, said a consultant. [Times files]
Published November 8 2018

CLEARWATER — As it turns out, downtown Clearwater has a surplus of parking.

That’s what a study presented recently to the City Council indicates, but whether the 6,400 off-street spots are in the right places and effectively marked, and whether they are enough for the future, are among the questions the city faces on the cusp of a downtown it hopes will be in transition.

“We know change is coming,” Amanda Thompson, director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency said to the council members.

The mayor wants steps taken to market the spaces.

“What’s more important is that we utilize what we have and better direct them to it,” George Cretekos said after being told that a lack of signage and directions often leaves guests clueless on where to go.

A consultant told the council signs that brand the city’s lots, plus electronic signs that indicate the number of spots available, will help.

“People are much more confident going into a lot knowing they have a space,” said David Taxman, parking and traffic engineer project manager for Kimley-Horn, the consulting firm hired by the city.

With the $50-plus million Imagine Clearwater plan in motion, Thompson said many prime waterfront surface spots will be lost. During construction, only about 200 of such spots will be available, and afterward only about 300 will exist.

Meanwhile, Thompson said a new kind of office world will likely emerge downtown where employers for businesses such as those involved in technology will be packing in more employees per square foot, utilizing things like more cubicles and standing work stations.

“And most of them will want to drive to their job,” Thompson said.

In the near future, she hopes the creation of downtown housing will result in those same people walking to work.

Until then, another question revolves around whether or not the city should build another parking structure and, if so, where it should go.

Cretekos said a lack of street spots in front of local businesses remains a sore spot as well.

Taxman said a key ingredient is for the city to work toward establishing shared parking agreements between city- and/or county-owned lots and private lots in order to maximize what exists instead of spending money to create more. Private lots would share spaces for public use and be paid for them.

Of the 6,400 available spots, 43 percent are city or county owned.

On an average Wednesday afternoon, findings showed that 50 percent of the public spots are utilized, compared to 42 percent of the private spots — many of which are reserved for employees during business hours. After 5 p.m. weekdays and on weekends, when about 1,400 private spots open up, that changes to 14 percent public and 30 percent private in terms of use.

Taxman also said the public-use charge of 50 cents per hour, and $48.15 per month, were below average for similar markets.