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More parking for the Straz Center? So far, the proposal is getting little traction

A plan by the Straz center to expand parking at its arrival plaza was rejected by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. Commissioners sided with their planning staff, which determined that any expansion of parking along the city's waterfront violates existing zoning regulations. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times]
A plan by the Straz center to expand parking at its arrival plaza was rejected by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission. Commissioners sided with their planning staff, which determined that any expansion of parking along the city's waterfront violates existing zoning regulations. [DENNIS JOYCE | Times]
Published May 18, 2018

TAMPA — Parking has been a problem at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts since downtown began to emerge from the recession nearly a decade ago.

The crunch looks likely to continue.

A Straz plan to expand parking at its arrival plaza off W Tyler Street was rejected Monday by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission.

Commissioners sided with staff planners who determined that any expansion of parking along the city's waterfront — currently prohibited — would violate existing zoning regulations.

Tampa officials said riverfront surface parking would conflict with the city's work in recent years to showcase the Hillsbor-
ough River. While acknowledging that the Straz's parking options, including remote lots and the nearby Poe garage, are often inadequate, city planners stood firm.

Straz officials said they just wanted the city's zoning to reflect reality — "to clean up, we believe, some code language to match up with what we're currently doing," said Doug Dieck, a Straz board member.

The Straz has parked about 50 cars in the arrival plaza for years, chief operating officer Lorrin Shepard said Thursday.

The performing arts center wanted the commission to formally authorize that practice. The zoning change would also allow the center to continue its effort to expand the plaza, allowing it to park more cars. The exact number hasn't been determined, Shepard said.

Sold-out shows stress parking. And the construction of a 30-story, 300-unit residential tower across the street from the entrance will only make things worse. For that reason, Straz officials wanted to get started by this summer on their proposed $375,000 project.

In February, Straz Center executives said their expansion plans would help them better manage valet services, which account for about 10 percent of parking needs.

But the request didn't fare well at Monday's meeting.

Surface parking along the river was phased out in 2000 as part of a zoning reclassification called the "waterfront overlay," said Cathy Coyle, the city's manager of planning and urban design.

"They call it an arrival plaza. Valet is perfectly fine for events," Coyle said. "It's the storage of vehicles that is truly the issue here. … We do not believe it's appropriate to add surface parking back into the waterfront overlay."

The city would authorize spots accessible to persons with disabilities, Coyle said.

"We're hoping to refine the language so it doesn't open Pandora's Box," said Morris Massey, an attorney representing the Straz. "The center is, frankly, one of the most important cultural centers in the city of Tampa and the region. It's important for us to maintain access and some level of vehicular use in that area."

Coyle said the city couldn't show "favoritism" by accommodating the Straz's request at the exclusion of other waterfront property owners.

But Shepard said Thursday the Tampa Convention Center, operated by the city, "seems to be exempt from this."

Planning commissioners sided with the city staff on the Straz request, voting to recommend that it is inconsistent with Tampa's Imagine 2040 comprehensive plan.

Commissioners said they hoped the city and the Straz could work out a compromise. The proposal is now headed to the Tampa City Council.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago