Wrap design parking structure at Novel Riverwalk. <span class='image-credits'>Amber Sigman</span>

Downtown Tampa offers plenty of parking, so why can't you find a spot?

There’s nowhere to park in downtown Tampa. That’s a commonly expressed frustration that threatens to hamper the city’s ongoing urban boom. But it's wrong.

A one-year study commissioned by the Tampa Downtown Partnership concludes that downtown has a parking management problem, not a parking inventory problem.

“Our parking models have not kept up with the changing needs of our downtown and we need to be better at managing our parking,” says Karen Kress, the director of transportation and planning at the nonprofit group of business leaders. “We have to act now. Right now, we’re still able to pull it off, but if we don’t manage our parking, it is really going to be a hindrance.''

Three counts conducted during the course of the study showed that, even during peak weekday parking times, 6,000 of the 24,000 spaces in the downtown business core were empty.

The study concluded that those vacant spaces were in part a result of downtown parking system dominated by monthly permits for business and employees that leaves open spaces off-limits to someone venturing downtown for an event or a night out.

Price disparity was another issue. The city of Tampa, which manages 8,000 spaces downtown, has put in a 15-year freeze on prices. The study pushes for price adjustments to put the cost for city spaces more in line with private garages and lots. That may not mean across-the-board increases, Kress says.

Special rate packages, such as early-bird rates, could also be a part of a price adjustment solution.

Private parking operators, including office towers with garages, could also adjust their practices and allow the general public to pay to use their facilities during weekends and other off-business hours.

If there is greater cooperation between the public and private sector to increase the availability of existing spaces, Kress says the study shows downtown does not need additional spaces at this point in time.

Looking ahead, the study recommended potentially shifting to a public-private partnership model similar to what exists in Ann Arbor, MI. There, the city sets rates, manages the residential parking permit program, and handles enforcement; a downtown development authority coordinates availability location and price; and a private company issues monthly passes, validations, and parking cards and manages meters.

The study proposes a similar system here with the City of Tampa, the Tampa Bay Downtown Partnership, and the private parking operators.

Moving forward, Kress says the next step is working to get consensus among the stakeholders on implementing management changes.

Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. Chris spent more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys our local music scene, great weather and the wealth of outdoor festivals.
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