By Mary Hladky
City officials are asking owners of downtown private parking garages and surface parking lots if they are willing to allow the public to use their surplus spaces.
This effort is a step toward alleviating the downtown parking crunch, which has prompted fears that people are avoiding the downtown because parking is such a hassle.
But it is not clear whether owners are willing to help out.
City Manager Leif Ahnell said city staffers already have spoken to owners, and they are reluctant to offer up their extra parking spaces because of concerns about liability, the cost of hiring more maintenance staff to monitor parking and security concerns.
Chris Heggen, of parking consultant Kimley-Horn and Associates, said the city probably would have to authorize private property owners to charge the public for use of their facilities.
Kimley-Horn presented the second of two downtown parking studies to the City Council, sitting as Community Redevelopment Agency commissioners, at their April 26 meeting.
The first study, presented last summer, found that the 1,275 existing downtown parking spaces technically are enough to meet demand since they are only 70 percent used. But the spaces are not all located where many people want to shop and dine, creating a parking crunch at better locations.
Mizner Park, for example, needs 108 more spaces now, and that number will grow to about 150 by 2020, the study found.
The second study looked at the parking supply in private facilities in the downtown core. The six lots and garages surveyed have nearly 400 spaces available at the peak parking time of 7 p.m. on Fridays. Of those, Heggen estimated about 100 might be available for public use.
But once again, some of those properties are west of Federal Highway — not where most of the demand is. One possibility is to use those properties for valet-parked vehicles, Heggen said.
The study found that Royal Palm Place has the biggest parking problem, with its private lots filled to overcapacity at 7 p.m. Fridays. It needs 177 more spaces.
Although the use of privately owned parking may help alleviate the parking shortage, Heggen said the city needs to build a parking garage downtown.
City officials and council members know that and have tried for years to acquire property for this purpose. So far, no property owner has been willing to sell to the city.
Kimley-Horn found that in 2022, the city will need 300-350 more public and private spaces. By 2040, that number jumps to 475-600.