CLEARWATER — Imagine Clearwater, the ambitious plan to redevelop the downtown waterfront, will require the removal of six, city-owned parking lots totaling 692 spaces.
That's just one of the challenges faced by city planners designing a new downtown: How to provide parking for the thousands of daily or weekly visitors the city needs to spark and maintain a lively and profitable downtown entertainment, restaurant, and retail area.
The numbers come from a study by Kimley-Horn, the St. Petersburg firm that the City Council — sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency — hired to evaluate the city's downtown parking.
"This is the first parking survey since the one we did for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium several years ago," Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell said.
Kimley-Horn mapped out city and county government parking garages and lots, counted city-metered parking spaces along Clearwater's streets, and surveyed private parking lots near storefronts, businesses and office buildings. The firm counted some 6,393 spaces, including 3,460 private and 2,933 city or county-owned parking spaces.
When consultants counted downtown spaces between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again after business hours, they found 690 empty spaces in the peak afternoon period and 1,829 empty spaces in the evenings.
But, as locals and the City Council already know, parking is much tougher to find during weekend or evening events at Coachman Park.
Though the development of the amphitheater and rest of Coachman Park includes 200 new parking spaces, that still leaves 492 of the 692 pre-construction parking spaces un-replaced. That leaves the question of how to create parking for live concerts at Coachman Park's new amphitheater, slated to be operational in 2022.
Though Kimley-Horn recommends more spaces — "a new parking structure will be needed downtown to support economic development and events at Imagine Clearwater" — the firm also urges the city to create an event-management plan for events that have an "attendance of 5,000 people or greater."
The city and local government partners have learned to reduce automobile traffic by combining buses that collect riders at free parking lots, such as at the former City Hall and the Clearwater Beach Marina.
The city also subsidizes bus rides to and from downtown and the beach. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the Jolley Trolley and the Clearwater Ferry might also pitch in.
The study also recommends promoting other strategies to "enhance the accessibility, attractiveness and walkability" of the city center by directing concertgoers to parking lots outside downtown. PSTA and other public buses then transport them to Coachman Park. If the parking is close enough, concertgoers can walk or ride their own bicycles (or bike share) to downtown and the park.
The Kimley-Horn report lays out strategies to handle all future downtown parking, not just managing automobile traffic for amphitheater events, Maxwell said.
"We have to try to plan as best we can for the future for the impacts of both Imagine Clearwater and decreased parking as business increases in downtown," Maxwell said. "This is just one piece we need to talk through and analyze as we find the best way to use that data to manage our parking."
The report suggests other ways the city can develop sufficient parking downtown:
• Within 10 years, 500 parking spaces will be needed; the most convenient location for a new parking facility is at 515 Park St. It already is a county-owned lot but should be enlarged during Phase 1 of Imagine Clearwater.
• Shared parking agreements with private owners of parking garages. The City Council and associated city offices have an agreement to use the Bank of America's parking garage.
• Provide centralized valet service to support retail and restaurant use along Cleveland Street.
• Provide bike share, or scooter share services downtown to reduce parking demand.
• Erect "way-finding signage" so drivers can easily find parking garages and other lots quickly.
• Use electric signs and smartphone apps that indicate space availability in each lot.
• Rebrand parking enforcement officers as "Parking Ambassadors."