By Mary Hladky

Mayor Scott Singer may finally have enough support on the Boca Raton City Council to build a public parking garage near City Hall.
Singer has long called for a parking garage to alleviate the shortage of public parking downtown. But City Manager Leif Ahnell has said repeatedly that no property owners in the heart of downtown are willing to sell land to the city.
So Singer, while conceding the location is not ideal, has suggested building on city-owned land near City Hall and using a shuttle or circulator system to ferry people from there across the FEC railroad tracks to popular destinations such as Mizner Park and Royal Palm Place.
The idea didn’t get much traction until a Sept. 25 Community Redevelopment Agency meeting when newly elected council member Andy Thomson supported it.
“We can’t afford to let this slip any further,” he said. “Let’s get the garage going.”
Council member Andrea O’Rourke, sitting as CRA chair, said the parking garage could be part of the master plan for a new downtown government campus.
“This is the closest I’ve gotten to getting three votes for a parking garage,” Singer said.
The City Council has debated what to do about inadequate downtown parking for nearly two years, but ideas finally began to solidify at the CRA meeting.
Technically, the city has enough downtown parking. The problem is that many of the public spaces are not located near where many people want to shop and dine, and many don’t want to park and walk several blocks. That creates a parking crunch at popular spots.
Council members want to do more to encourage owners of buildings with surface parking or garages to make agreements with the city to open their spaces to the public after business hours when downtown parking demand is the greatest.
The hurdle here is to work out liability and security issues, said consultant Chris Heggen of Kimley-Horn and Associates. Private parking owners also would have to be authorized by the city to charge the public to use their parking, he said.
The council seemed open to streamlining cumbersome city processes so it’s easier for the owners to ink deals with the city.
A variation of that idea is getting business and restaurant owners to make their own arrangements with owners of surface parking and garages.
Even if a garage near City Hall proves unpopular with the public, O’Rourke said, employees of downtown businesses and people going to special city events would be able to use it.
Still up in the air is how to get users of the city parking garage into downtown. In the past, the council members have talked about shuttles, circulators and encouraging residents to make greater use of ride-sharing services.
Parking meters are also part of the conversation. Current downtown meters are at the end of their life spans.
Another Kimley-Horn consultant said he is investigating various options, such as allowing people to pay for parking via cellphone apps, such as PayByPhone and ParkMobile, that many other cities already use.
Robert Eisen, who works for the city’s largest downtown landowner, Investments Limited, has in the past been opposed to more meters.
Investments Limited is now “repenting,” he said. “Investments Limited will not oppose the expansion of parking meters in the downtown.”
The city is also exploring how to make it easier for visitors to find their way around.
A third Kimley-Horn consultant said most of the signage to attractions such as Mizner Park and museums would be concentrated on Federal and Dixie highways and Palmetto Park Road.
They have settled on 12 signs for now and have been designing them and making color selections. Nonstandard directional signage also could be used, such as embedding directions on pavers in sidewalks.
They also are looking at interactive hubs that people could use to find where they need to go. These could include Wi-Fi hotspots and charging stations, the consultant said.

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