TAMPA — Churchgoers, downtown residents and Riverwalk enthusiasts are upset about recent parking fees put in place on Sundays downtown.
Mayor Jane Castor’s administration made the changes as part of an effort to raise revenue to modernize the city’s parking system and encourage people to walk, bike or take mass transit downtown. The $2.50 an hour rate went into effect Jan.1.
Council chairman Guido Maniscalco said he plans to ask the administration at Thursday’s council meeting to amend the ordinance to make parking free downtown until 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Sundays.
“What is the financial impact of giving a few free hours on a Sunday? It’s got to be a minor, minor difference in revenue,” Maniscalco said. “I think that’s fair.”
Three downtown churches, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 509 N. Florida Ave., St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 509 E. Twiggs St.and First Presbyterian Church of Tampa, 412 E. Zack St., have enlisted local consultant Steve Michelini to lobby Castor to rescind the Sunday parking fees, which currently start at 8 a.m.
Michelini said he’s trying to get the administration to honor what he said was a previous agreement to allow free parking downtown on Sunday mornings.
“Do you really want to balance the parking budget on the backs of churches and kids?” said Michelini, who said about 5,000 family members in the three churches would be affected.
Two phone calls to Castor’s office were not immediately returned.
In January, mobility director Vik Bhide said the parking rate increases, which also did away with free parking north of Kennedy Boulevard, were designed to encourage alternate modes of transportation and discourage people from circling around downtown in search of street parking. The city has kept parking rates lower in lots at the edge of downtown to ensure that service workers in downtown hotels and restaurants aren’t priced out.
Tampa’s parking rates haven’t increased since 2004. The system needs to be modernized, including making improvements to the city’s parking garages and, eventually, to implement technology that will enable drivers to find open spots on their phones, Bhide said.
However, Maniscalco said the changes have angered downtown residents, who often rely on on-street and garage parking for their guests, Riverwalk enthusiasts who like to walk, run or bike along the river in the mornings, and Sunday churchgoers accustomed to parking near where they worship.
“I think there’s too much confusion,” Maniscalco said, adding that he plans to send a memo to his six council colleagues Tuesday to schedule at least a discussion of the issue on Thursday.