tampabay.com

Want confusion with that?

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published May 11, 2007


South Tampa is a lovely place to live and work, but you don't want to try to park here.

Struggles for spaces around numerous SoHo bars and restaurants are legendary. But even outside that orbit, parking can be a pain.

Just ask Steve Finelli, who located his fifth Tijuana Flats franchise outside the heart of SoHo specifically to make sure his customers had ample room to park.

He has two parking lots at the 1617 W Platt St. location, but they're not next to the building - an unusual layout that has first-time patrons confused.

There are five spaces on one side of the building, but two are handicapped spaces, and two are reserved for "to go" orders. Which leaves only one regular spot open.

The only lot that's next to Tijuana Flats is behind the restaurant. It belongs to a neighboring company, ProVest, which has to cone off the lot to keep out the lunchtime crowd.

If you work for ProVest and park there, here's what you often must do to leave for a weekday lunch:

Get in your car. Pull up to the orange cones that separate the lot from the street. Get out. Move a cone or two. Get back in your car. Pull into the street. Get out. Put the cones back into place. Get back in your car and drive off.

When you return from lunch, do it all over again.

"It's no secret that it's been an issue, " said Lori Liburdi, human resources director for ProVest, which shares its building with a law firm.

Signs in the lot that indicate non-ProVest parkers could be towed haven't dissuaded everyone.

"I tried to park back there, and some lady yelled at me, " said Carole Davis, 19, who arrived to eat at Tijuana Flats last week. "I didn't know where to park."

Tijuana Flats' parking is a stone's throw away. There's one lot with 28 spaces, and another just north with nine spaces.

Neither is accessible from S Rome Avenue, which seems like the most obvious turn-in spot coming off one-way Platt.

A driver traveling on Platt has to go past the restaurant to see the arrowed signs directing drivers down a narrow alley or down S Dakota Avenue to the official lots.

Finelli, the restaurant owner, acknowledged that patrons often come in wondering where they're supposed to park. But only first-timers should be confused, he said.

"There are very clear signs on both sides of us; we have six different signs, both off of Platt and Dakota, " he said. "We have a great relationship with ProVest, and they let us use that lot on weekends."

There's nothing improper about Tijuana Flats' parking plan: It meets city code, and the Tampa City Council signed off on the plan when it approved the restaurant's rezoning in March 2006.

Council member John Dingfelder said he recalled that the parking plan was debated thoroughly at the time. He said he hasn't heard any complaints about the current situation.

Finelli said he has been discussing with ProVest, a process serving company, the possibility of swapping lots to make parking more logical. The restaurant also might add valet service off Rome during the day.

The signs that direct potential parkers are pretty small, but city codes won't allow Finelli to erect larger ones, he said.

Liburdi, the ProVest HR director, said that while warding off unauthorized parkers has been a pain, the company is happy to have Tijuana Flats next door.

"I thought it was somewhat strange" how the parking worked out, she said. "But we all love the food, and we do monthly lunches for the employees. I think it's working out."

It might work itself out anyway, because ProVest is considering a move to another location in the fall, Liburdi said.

The reason, of course: "We need more space."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.