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Tampa apartment construction squeezes Straz Center parking

Crescent Communities of Atlanta is building 394 apartments and a parking garage on this 5 acres next to the Ashley Drive off-ramp from Interstate 275. That, a Tampa official says, is exacerbating a parking squeeze for patrons of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. [Richard Danielson | Times]
Published Dec. 9, 2016

TAMPA — The construction of an apartment complex on the northern edge of downtown is causing major traffic problems for patrons of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

"My sense from them is that it's really becoming a very critical situation," said Harry Cohen, the Tampa City Council's appointee to the Straz Center board.

When the hit musical Into the Woods played the Straz Center last week, theater managers had to hold the curtain for 30 minutes because patrons were having problems finding places to park. And they held the curtain for other shows in the Straz's smaller halls that night, too.

"I am constantly getting calls from people the next day saying, 'I don't think I'm going to come anymore. I can't fight the traffic. I just can't find a place to park,' " Straz Center president Judith Lisi said this week. "When you're trying to make a curtain time and you're held up, you get very frantic."

Parking around the Straz Center has been tight for years, but in recent months the squeeze has gotten worse, Cohen said, because of an apartment project now going up next to the Barrymore Hotel.

Crescent Communities of Atlanta is building 394 apartments, plus a parking garage, on 5 acres that until this fall provided 500 parking spaces for the Times Building during the day and the Straz Center at night and on weekends.

Cohen this week asked for help in the form of more police officers to direct traffic on especially busy nights, developing more satellite parking lots with transportation to the concert hall, as well as thinking about a long-term solution.

"The venue is only getting more crowded, and there just isn't enough parking," he told fellow council members this week. "I really think we as a city have got to look at different ways we can create the opportunity for more people to be able to fit there."

The city has been working on both short- and long-term relief, said Bob McDonaugh, City Hall's top development official.

In the near term, it has leased the old Morgan Street jail site at no cost from the Florida Department of Transportation and plans to pave it to create 314 parking spaces. Those are expected to be done by June.

Looking further out, McDonaugh said he got Crescent Communities to agree to provide access to Straz patrons to more than 400 spaces in its new garage, which he expects will take seven months to build.

Meanwhile, the Straz, where attendance runs about 600,000 a year, has been sending patrons emails saying it knows parking is tight and offering some suggestions.

"Please believe us when we say we feel your pain," says the email, which features a photo of an actor holding her head in horror.

The suggestions include arriving early, as well as using alternatives to driving such as the Pirate Water Taxi, free Downtowner electric shuttle, HART's free In-Towner trolley, Uber and Lyft, local taxi companies' $4 "In-Town" fares, the Cross-Bay Ferry and various lots within walking distance of the Straz.

"We're sending that to everybody who's got tickets to anything," Straz Center spokesman Paul Bilyeu said.

McDonaugh said downtown parking could see more big crowds in the days leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 9.

That week, organizers are planning three free concerts at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park:

• Eric Paslay, the Shadowboxers and Clare Dunn on Jan. 6.

• Flo Rida, Cold War Kids and Rachel Platten on Jan. 7.

• Usher, Gavin DeGraw, Jamie N Commons and Jay Pharoah on Jan. 8.

"They're anticipating maybe 30,000 people trying to come downtown," McDonaugh told the council. "It's going to be a very active time."

Contact Richard Danielson at (813) 226-3403 or rdanielson@tampabay.com. Follow @Danielson_Times.

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