Sun, sand and parking for all

That's what the county hopes it will be able to offer to beach towns and their visitors.

Published June 10, 2005

REDINGTON BEACH - Mike Nahat plans to spend $7-million this summer to acquire properties along Gulf Boulevard.

He's not a condominium developer, nor does he represent a major hotel or resort.

Instead, he is spearheading a massive effort by Pinellas County to provide frustrated beachgoers with adequate parking from Indian Rocks Beach to Madeira Beach.

"There is a tremendous need for public parking for people who want to visit Pinellas County beaches," said Nahat, coordinator for the county's real estate department. "We'd like to add as many parking spaces as we can."

He is looking for parcels that span a half-acre to an acre and sit on the east side of Gulf Boulevard. The $7-million will come from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue that was set aside to buy "endangered land." Snatching up space for beachgoer parking falls under that designation, Nahat said.

The county has not yet purchased any property and has no definite time frame for the project. Two hurdles in the hunt for new beach parking, Nahat said, are high prices and a lack of undeveloped land.

"We're willing to consider any property that is offered at a realistic price," he said. "I'll look at anything."

Nahat recently started talking to government officials in the county's beach communities to solicit support and advice on what properties might be available. So far, he has talked to officials in Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores, North Redington Beach and Redington Beach.

Only Redington Beach has been unsupportive. The milelong community of mostly single-family homes has a number of beach access points and two beachside parks equipped with benches and showers. But the town doesn't make it easy for nonresidents to get to the beach. Onstreet parking is not allowed on Gulf Boulevard within town limits, and the main beach access point has a small parking lot that is reserved for town residents.

When the town's commissioners learned of the county's plan this week, they unanimously decided not to support it.

Nahat said he wants to work with the towns to come up with something to benefit them and their visitors. He received a warmer welcome in other beach communities.

"We'd be very open to that," said John Coffey, city manager of Indian Rocks Beach. He said the city has 28 beach access points and a "real need" for more parking spaces.

Don Tabor, mayor of Indian Shores, questioned whether Nahat would be able to find any property not already snatched up by developers, but he also expressed support. "It's a splendid idea," he said.

Bill Queen, mayor of North Redington Beach, said he wants Nahat to acquire beachfront property that could become both a landscaped park and a parking lot.

"Plain parking lots are a no-no now," Queen said. "Additional parking is a great idea, but we want something that has an aesthetic quality."