wait a moment

Davidson Plaza now has paid parking

Crescent Beach Grocery lot added on the southern part of Siesta

By Rachel Brown Hackney

A Sarasota firm has begun managing the Davidson Plaza parking lot, charging drivers $4.00 per hour unless they are dining in one of the restaurants or otherwise using services in the plaza.

paid parkingFL Parking Co. has been contacting private property owners on Siesta Key about managing parking spaces at businesses that close after 5 p.m., Mark Smith of Smith Architects, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, told about 25 people during the Chamber’s first quarterly meeting.

He explained on Feb. 15 that FL Parking Co. was expected to begin the service in Davidson Plaza in Siesta Village that evening. The business plan called for the firm to put in a “pay station,” Smith said. “They say it’s portable; it only weighs about 600 pounds,” he added, eliciting laughter.

The firm will have an employee on-site to ensure that people pay, Smith continued. Asher Chappell, co-owner of the firm, also assured the SNL that while towing signs are still up, towing is not part of the plan.

The FL Parking Co. ambassador on-site makes certain spots can be found for people using the shops and dining in the restaurants in the plaza, Chappell’s business partner, Dan McNutt, explained in a separate interview. That leaves about 10 or 12 extra spaces for others seeking places to leave their vehicles without fear of towing.

McNutt also noted that the firm is eager to work with the free ride services on Siesta, to help patrons who want to leave their vehicles at Davidson’s easily reach destinations in other areas of the island.

The parking ambassador is able to provide directions and suggestions to visitors, as well, he said. “We really like to be an overall service.”

When SNL suggested that other potential clients may be watching the service in Davidson Plaza before signing on with the firm, McNutt agreed. “I kind of think that is what is happening. … Presence and performance there will speak to the goals of our company.”

While the service will generate revenue for a property owner, he continued, the goal is to open up more areas for parking, so people “can go about their business and enjoy the Key.”

And while people may object at first to the prospect of paying to park their vehicles, he pointed out, “we tend to find, over time, people see the value in it.”

“We’re happy to be there,” Chappell stated. In fact, he said, when he was in the Village in late February, a county employee approached him to express her delight at the new system.

“Nothing’s worse for a visitor than having a car towed,” Smith said. “I’d love to get all the ‘No Parking’ signs down,” he added, “and see the towing signs go away.”

Smith explained to the Chamber members on Feb. 15 that the firm is working from the parking plan he created over a period of months in an effort to expand the number of spaces for visitors and residents in the Village. (Siesta Key Village Association leaders were unable to gain Sarasota County financial support to create the spaces, and the plan ultimately never was implemented. County staff estimated it would cost about $100,000 to create about 90 new spaces in rights of way Smith had targeted. Counting all the possible spaces on private property, Smith’s plan included about 300 spaces.)

“So they’re going to contact all those folks [whose offices close at 5 p.m.],” Smith noted during the Chamber meeting, including the owners of Michael Saunders & Co. — which has an Ocean Boulevard real estate office — Siesta Center and the CJ Lofino Building, which is on the very north end of the Village. (The Lofino Building is where the Pelican Press offices were located years ago.)

He knew a representative of FL Parking also had contacted Crescent Beach Grocery on Old Stickney Point Road, Smith added.

Crescent Beach Grocery started the paid parking in their lot effective the third week of March. Visitors can use the lot starting at 9 PM after the store closes for the day. This will help the area with parking. The south area businesses experience the same problem with lack of parking. Crescent Beach Grocery is located at 1211 Old Stickney Point Road.

Chappell confirmed that representatives of FL Parking are looking at three or four other locations to provide more public parking. He said he would be able to provide further details in the coming weeks.

After surveying the situation in the Village firsthand, Chappell stated, he has become familiar with how few spaces exist to meet the demand. The spots in the plaza right now are “a drop in the bucket,” he added. “Every parking space counts.”

Smith said in late February that he had not heard any comments from the public about the new system in Davidson Plaza. Some people might object to the fee per hour, he said, but “it just depends on where you’re from.” Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies long have talked of how tourists readily pay $25 parking tickets, because they are so desperate to find places near the Village to leave their vehicles, even if the spaces they use are illegal.

A last chance to solve South Siesta parking concerns

Siesta also came up during the commissioners’ board reports during their Feb. 28 meeting.

When Chair Paul Caragiulo asked Commissioner Nancy Detert if she had anything to discuss, she hesitated. Laughter rang out from some of her colleagues when she said she was not sure if she should say anything.

“Come on!” Caragiulo teased her. Then Detert explained that she recently had taken a tour of Siesta Key “at the behest of someone else to review the lack of parking spaces and the illegal use of parking spaces and the way they handle parking spaces.”

When Caragiulo asked which part of the Key she was referring to, she replied, “The south end, oddly enough.”

She had asked staff to check on “a few things that probably aren’t kosher, and, hopefully, they’ll get back to us …” “Bravo, Commissioner Detert, for doing that,” Commissioner Alan Maio responded.

south siesta surplus county parcelAt some point, Maio indicated, he was hopeful the board members would have an opportunity to talk about a 1.84-acre parcel located at 6647 Midnight Pass Road.

When the commissioners held their Feb. 17 budget workshop, the agenda included a discussion about surplus properties the county has under contract and others that it is evaluating for potential sale. Among those parcels, Lin Kurant, manager of the county’s Real Estate Services Division, said is that Midnight Pass Road land, which the county’s Utilities Department owns. She recommended the board not put it up for sale, as it might be needed for future expansion related to utilities.

Maio concurred with her recommendation about keeping it off the market, mentioning that at one time it was used by the Siesta Key Utilities Authority (SKUA). However, he told her and his colleagues, “That [property], I would say, may be our last and only opportunity for a parking lot on Siesta” or for a turnaround area for a trolley or bus.

In a recap of board requests at the conclusion of the budget workshop, County Administrator Tom Harmer said staff indeed would evaluate the potential use of the property for parking or trolley turnaround use.

According to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records, the parcel is 80,084 square feet. SKUA officially transferred the property to the county on June 21, 2006, the records note. SKUA was the entity that originally operated the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In 2016, Property Appraiser Office’s staff valued the land at $1,729,800. That office’s records show that two structures are on the site, both dating to 1974. One has a total of 2,269 square feet; the other, 10,000 square feet.

David A. Cash, the county’s Water/Wastewater Division manager, told Siesta Sand that the larger building on the property is a water storage tank that is not in use. He added that “there are still active water transmission lines running through this parcel.”

On Feb. 28, Maio reiterated his Feb. 17 remark: “I would ask we just keep that in mind, if appropriate.”

Earlier that day, the board approved a contract to initiate a free open-air trolley service on Siesta, which will run from the Beach Club in Siesta Village to Turtle Beach. The six-month pilot program is scheduled to start on March 20.

Because Kurant noted on Feb. 17 that the Midnight Pass Road parcel is used by the Sheriff’s Office, SNL contacted Kaitlyn Perez, the office’s community affairs director, to ask about the site. She explained in a March 3 email that the Training Section utilizes the smaller structure on the parcel, but that group eventually may relocate to the Sheriff’s Office’s South County facility.

The Sheriff’s Office leases the property from the Utilities Department, Cash noted.