St. Petersburg, Fla. - The city of St. Petersburg is about to raise parking rates by a whopping 50 percent in one of the area’s hottest locations. But they’re also offering a cheaper option.
If you have ever driven along St. Petersburg popular Beach Drive or Central Avenue, especially during peak hours, you know how difficult it can be at times to find a parking space.
So, now, the city has an idea.
Officials are going to try to move people off the street and into public parking lots using money as a motivator.
“Some people right around the block six times looking for a spot,” said Dave Riester who enjoys visiting Beach Drive.
And yet, while the streets are packed, three of St. Petersburg’s downtown garages often look a ghost town. Hundreds of empty spots.
So, starting June 1, the city is raising its parking rates along Beach Drive from $1 to $1.50 an hour. And at the same time, offering the first hour of parking in its three downtown garages -- free.
“That way the people who really want that spot on the street are more likely to be able to find it,” said Transportation Director Evan Mory.
Mory, citing a study the city conducted last year, hopes the incentives are enough to persuade people to walk a block or two.
“Luckily, we have one of the best walking downtown's that there is in the state or in the country. And so, people should feel a little bit more comfortable walking a distance,” said Mory.
“Yeah, that's a good plan to me. To park over there in the garage for free for an hour,” said nearby resident Ramius Stiehler.
On booming Central Avenue parking will also see changes.
The city isn’t raising the rates, but it is increasing hours of enforcement. Instead of 6 p.m., you’ll have to feed the meter until 8 p.m. And no more free weekends.
People we spoke with didn't seem to mind the proposed changes, as steep as they might appear.
“It’s probably not too bad for city parking,” said visitor Tina Riedinger, comparing it with other hot spots.
The city acknowledges a key balancing act is how the parking rate can affect business.
Charge too much and it might scare off customers. Charge too little, and would-be customers can drive away in frustration.
“I've had people call and say, oh we can't find a place to park we're going to have to cancel our reservation. And like, that's where it's kind of crazy,” said Kress Young, a hostess at a Beach Drive restaurant.
Mory says the extra money raised from the new meter rates will eventually be used to build, you guessed it, more parking spaces.
But the city says it doesn't want to build too many garages, predicting self-driving cars and shifting transportation preferences will eventually slow demand.
In the meantime, St. Pete says it’s working with private developers to create more parking spaces in developments with mixed use.
And when the pier project is finished it will also add another 550 spots along the city’s waterfront.