Looking for a parking space in Downtown Tampa? Changes may help

Change is on the horizon for downtown Tampa parking, including higher rates for on-street spaces, variable pricing based on demand, and the future installation of message boards on city garages to let people know how many spaces are available.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership conducted a study a year or so ago about parking capacity in downtown. Since then, it has been working with the City of Tampa to find positive changes that will allow for better access and convenience. 

It has been an interesting journey, says Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Partnership. “When we first started, if you asked 10 people how to solve the parking issue, they would have said the city needs to build a new parking garage. We mapped all downtown parking and over the year, we’ve done three or four different occupancy counts, counting how many cars were in the parking spaces. That helped identify that we do have availability and determine if people can access it and if it is where people want it to be.”

At the time, she says, the city would say downtown Tampa has a walking problem, not a parking problem. People considered the available spaces too far away from where they wanted to be. “But Tampa has some of the shortest blocks in the country for a city of this size,” Kress says. “And we’ve got sidewalks and crosswalks and pedestrian intervals. We have made really good strides to enhance pedestrian safety and in slowing cars down, one of the key tenants of Vision Zero.” Motorists are potentially driving a deadly weapon and need to realize that, she says.

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and serious injuries while increasing safety and mobility. It is a concept being implemented by cities across the globe.

Kress says Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has embraced the Partnership’s recommendations, which align with the T3 (Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow) initiatives for urban parking. 

“You want to, over time, analyze your pricing and a couple of things went to the City Council recently which included changes to how on-street parking is enforced. The city wants to build in some consistency. It is now divided into different zones and parking meters are regulated at different hours, which is confusing, and people get tickets.” Now, if approved by the council on second reading, all spaces will be monitored from 8 a.m. to midnight. 

The city wants to take that a step further and make the most convenient spaces the most expensive. On-street spaces are meant to have turnover, not one car for 12 hours, Kress says. “The city is trying to structure it where it is more expensive to park on-street, but also could adjust pricing, which is called variable pricing when demand is greatest.” They haven’t started doing that yet, but it is on the city’s radar.

There will also need to be technology upgrades, which will cost, but will make parking more convenient, Kress says.

One upgrade will be having smartphone apps that can let people know where downtown parking is available. And the city eventually wants to put up message boards to let people know how many spaces are available in a city garage.

“All that costs money and the city’s parking budget has been in the red for years,” Kress says. “Part of the problem in all of this is pricing, which hasn’t gone up since 2004. One could argue whether it is fair for the common taxpayer to subsidize downtown parking. I would say no. Another rate adjustment would be to the daily, hourly, and monthly parking [fees] which have not been raised since 2004.” The city’s rates have been about half of what the private sector charges.

Whenever there has been discussion of parking rates, it has always required a vote of the City Council, she says. The Partnership plan calls for setting minimum and maximum rates but giving parking professionals the flexibility to determine what the rates should be.

“We are 100% supportive of the moves the city is making,” Kress says. “COVID-19 taught us that when people are buying a monthly parking space they might not be coming to work every day. The city will try to build in some flexibility. There may be a hybrid solution. Maybe people will realize they don’t need to drive their cars every day. Some days they may ride their bike or take transit. It has not all been nailed down.”

For more information, visit the Tampa Downtown Partnership website.

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Read more articles by Yvette C. Hammett.

Yvette C. Hammett, a native Floridian and a graduate of the University of Florida, has spent much of her career as a professional journalist covering business, the environment, and local features throughout the Tampa Bay Area. She is an avid camper and outdoors person who has also been involved in local events for foster children and the elderly.