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HART, Westfield Brandon working to find a solution for commuters

Commuters catch a HART bus into downtown on Friday at the Westfield Brandon. Westfield's management recently warned commuters that their vehicles were in danger of being towed since the property is not an official HART park-and-ride lot. CRYSTAL OWENS | Special to the Times
Commuters catch a HART bus into downtown on Friday at the Westfield Brandon. Westfield's management recently warned commuters that their vehicles were in danger of being towed since the property is not an official HART park-and-ride lot. CRYSTAL OWENS | Special to the Times
Published Apr. 28, 2018

BRANDON — The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is working with management of the Westfield Brandon to solve a growing parking problem that recently left several bus riders worried they would return from work to find their vehicles towed from the premises.

Warning tickets were placed on several vehicles that were parked at the mall by people catching HART buses into downtown Tampa or MacDill Air Force Base, according to Westfield's marketing director Dawn Arvidson. However, Arvidson said mall management has no intentions of towing vehicles as they work with HART to come up with a solution.

"Obviously, we want it to be a safe environment for everyone in the system," she said.

HART chief operations officer Ruthie Reyes Burckard said the transit authority was "disappointed" by Westfield Brandon's decision to warn commuters that they were in danger of being towed, but "both organizations are working toward a solution that meets the needs of both parties."

HART officials and Westfield management have not yet publicly said what the plans are to improve commuter parking in the area as talks are in the early stages. In the meantime, HART is working to display new signs around the mall shelter to ensure that riders are aware that it's not an official park-and-ride location. Bus operators are also warning riders not to park in the area, Burckard said.

Westfield wants to make sure there's ample parking for its customers, but the mall also boasts a HART stop that includes five bus routes into downtown Tampa and other areas. Westfield Brandon has 5,128 available parking spaces that cater to 198 retail outlets that call the mall home.

Five buses make stops at Westfield Brandon; two of those five were added in the fall to keep up with a growing need in the area for public transportation.

This isn't the first time plans have been in the works to address commuter parking woes at the mall.

In 2012, HART abandoned plans to build a large park-and-ride station in Brandon on 4 acres off Falkenburg Road, just south of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and west of I-75. The park-and-ride would have had space for 200 to 250 vehicles, as well as amenities such as restrooms. HART pulled the plug on the project because costs soared about $1.6 million above original estimates of $2.25 million.

Since then, commuters have sometimes scrambled to find parking at Westfield Brandon, especially during the holidays when the number of shoppers at the mall drastically increases. But recently during normal workday hours, the lot had hundreds of empty spaces.

Burckard said HART has a cooperative working relationship with Westfield Brandon despite the facility recently undergoing new management.

Westfield Corp., the Australia-based shopping mall operator that oversees the Brandon location as well as many others, is being sold to French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco in a $24.7 billion deal that's in its final steps.

"In the past, HART has been assertive to quickly alleviate concerns from the Brandon location once they've been brought to our attention," Burckard said. "We've received assurances from management that they will involve the organization before it takes potential action against local citizens and potential mall customers, and agreements that they will cease posting notices on cars until a solution is determined.

"HART will continue to have an open door with the mall about its concerns and work towards inclusive solutions that meet both the riding public and management's needs."

Contact Crystal Owens at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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