A new parking garage opened Tuesday in St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. The garage adds 400 new parking spaces at the circle. But it comes at a price: you now will have to pay for parking. 

Many on the circle don’t seem to mind having to pay.

Finding a parking spot on St. Armands takes a bit of luck and good timing. Now, it will take a few bucks too. You’ll pay to park at one of 46 paid stations in the shopping district.

“Pretty easy, easy to read, push a button. It took me about a minute to get my receipt,” says Jerry McFarlane, visiting from Chicago. He says, “$10-$12 an hour in Chicago … a $1 an hour here. I say it’s reasonable.”

Here’s how it works: the closer you park to the circle the more you pay. Each zone is color coded. The new parking garage, which has 484 parking spaces, is the cheapest at 50 cents an hour.

Judy Hupfeld and her husband are vacationing from Iowa. They parked along the circle where it costs $1.50 an hour. 

Does she mind? “Not at all. It’s worth it. Parking is a premium here.” 

She says she'll pay more if necessary. “The weather is wonderful. I’d probably pay $2 or $3 an hour.”

Sarasota Police Department volunteers are on hand to talk you through the process. First, select your zone.

George Donatello, a volunteer with the Sarasota Police Office, helped Roger Barry pay for parking. “We’re going to hit green over here … then put in your license plate.”

Donatello asks, “How many hours would you like to be here?” 

Barry says, “1 hour.”

“Put your card in pluck it out real fast … in and out … You are good,” Donatello replies.

You have the option of getting a receipt or not, but you don’t have to keep the receipt on your dashboard.

 “Works great,” says Roger.

The city used input from the public and store owners to develop the new parking project.

“Getting more spaces for people to come out, get employees off the street and allow customers to have better access is the goal,” says Mark Lyons, parking manager for the City of Sarasota.

The city’s parking manager expects the meters will generate $1 million a year to help pay the bonds on the $15-million parking project and cover maintenance.

Lyons says, “Any money left over will be reinvested into the district.”

Business owners invested too. They agreed to pay an annual assessment that will bring in a quarter of a million dollars for the project.

“We’ve needed a parking garage for a long time and public restrooms,” says Nancy Metcalf, manager of Foxy Lady. “We’re hoping this will make the circle a better place to come to and shop.”

The new parking garage also has a bike repair station, free air, several charging stations for electric cars and as mentioned public bathrooms. Solar panels will be added next to power the garage. 

You can also use the popular Park Mobile app to pay. If you’d rather not pay, you can still find 200 free parking spaces about a block away.

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