Tampa nears compromise on Sunday morning downtown parking

An outcry from churchgoers, downtown residents and others has sparked a move to make Sunday morning downtown parking free again.
Tampa City Hall.
Tampa City Hall. [ CHARLIE FRAGO | Times ]
Published Jan. 28, 2021|Updated Jan. 28, 2021

TAMPA — Thousands of angry emails tend to capture the attention of City Hall.

Such a constituent-driven avalanche prompted City Council members Thursday to scramble to amend an ordinance they passed in November to make it again free to park downtown on Sunday mornings.

Chairman Guido Maniscalco led the effort to scrap the $2.50 per hour parking fees, which went into effect Jan.1.

Maniscalco said he was being responsive to the requests of churchgoers, Riverwalk morning exercisers and downtown residents who had complained about the fees.

Downtown parking is to be free until 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Sundays, as there is very little competition for spots during the traditional day of rest, Maniscalco said.

Luis Viera agreed.

“The only people downtown on Sunday mornings are churchgoers and workaholic attorneys,” Viera said.

Related: Tampa City Council chairman wants to bring back free Sunday morning parking downtown

Maniscalco’s idea found unanimous support among fellow council members. Council member Charlie Miranda was absent, as he recovers from coronavirus.

Joseph Citro didn’t want to stop with restoring free parking on Sunday mornings downtown. He said downtown churches and other non-profits host a variety of community events like Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on other days. He suggested extending free parking in a prescribed area downtown throughout the week after 6 p.m.

Others were more concerned about narrowly tailoring the legislative tweak so as to not upend the city’s rules and fees applying to its 13,000-plus parking spaces.

“This should be surgically specific,” said Bill Carlson.

Related: Tampa raises parking rates in 2021

Mobility Director Vik Bhide said the city had already made accommodations to people who wanted to park downtown on Sunday mornings. The Scott Street lot on downtown’s northern edge is free on weekends. And disabled drivers can still park on the street up to four hours, he said.

“We did consider the entire community and their needs,” Bhide said.

Bhide said he had the power as director to make the change back to free parking, but council member John Dingfelder said he wanted it written into the city code to make sure it sticks.

The council voted to have Mayor Jane Castor’s staff report on Feb. 4 about amending the ordinance. They also requested that the new parking fees not be enforced until the final ordinance change would occur in March.

City Attorney Gina Grimes said the administration would be happy to discuss suspending enforcement.

Three downtown churches — Sacred Heart Catholic Church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian of Tampa — had enlisted the help of influential consultant Steve Michelini to push for the free parking.

Maniscalco said he understood the angst about parking tickets being handed out to churchgoers and others downtown on Sunday mornings, but he wished there was a similar desire to change public policy on the area’s persistent homeless problem.

“I wish there was an uproar about that,” Maniscalco said.