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Parking meters may return downtown

The City Council considers spending $78,000 for meters along Beach Drive in the BayWalk area.

By SHARON L. BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The mention of parking meters makes people downtown wince.

Ever since the French, solar-powered, multi-space parking stations were installed, confused and angered the public and finally were removed, meters are about as popular as the Internal Revenue Service.

Even so, the city's parking manager, Philip L. Oropesa, is recommending the installation of 116 electronic parking meters along Beach Drive, from Central Avenue to Fifth Avenue NE.

But Oropesa is not talking about bringing back the French stations, 110 of which still sit in a city warehouse.

"No parking redux, so to speak," he said.

If the City Council approves, the city would spend $78,000 to buy 200 battery-powered, single-space meters that would take nickels, dimes and quarters. Users would push the coins into a slot according to how much time they wanted. A quarter would buy 45 minutes. The meters would have only an hour and a half of time, Oropesa said, and they do not make change.

But how much simpler than the French computerized stations. No punching in the number of a parking space in a multi-space machine, no figuring out parking costs (free or keyed to ongoing event?), no waiting for a receipt.

The purpose of the new meters is to help merchants who fear they are losing patrons because the current 90-minute parking maximum per space on Beach Drive is not enough time. While the meters would have the same maximum, a driver could buy more time in the same parking space by putting in more coins. In the timed spaces, a car must be moved or the driver faces a $17.50 traffic ticket for overtime parking.

Technically, buying more time in the same meter is against parking regulations. But it is a fact of life, Oropesa said. Repeated meter feeding or parking all day in one space still would be discouraged, he said.

The 90-minute restrictions were added in April to keep workers from the BayWalk entertainment/retail complex from taking spaces in front of Beach Drive. Before the 90-minute restriction, parking on Beach Drive was limited to two hours Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but it was free at nights and on the weekends.

BayWalk, which has restaurants and shops, opened in November. It has 380 workers, Oropesa said, and it brings a lot more people downtown. The city built a parking garage nearby, but many who come downtown still look for unlimited street parking.

"I think it might help out," said Harold Stevens, owner of Beach Drive Hair Studio, speaking of the meters. The studio is at 206 Beach Drive NE.

"I can't do a chemical service (such as hair coloring) in 90 minutes," Stevens said. "Parking on Beach Drive is not adequate."

Not all Beach Drive merchants agree with him about the meters, however.

"The city just changed the time to 90 minutes," said Bob Serata of Bernies & Son jewelers at 144 Beach Drive NE.

"It appears to be working," Serata said. "I'm afraid with meters, you will have (patrons) from BayWalk that will just keep feeding the meters all day." Serata said that with the 90-minutes limit, he sees cars come and go and spaces are available in front of his store.

The entire area that would receive meters in Oropesa's proposal is Central Avenue to Third Avenue and from Second Street to Beach Drive. Meters would be on both sides of Beach Drive from Central to Fifth Avenue NE. The spaces would be metered from 8 a.m. until midnight.

If the City Council approves, the meters could be in place as early as August.

Oropesa proposes buying 200 meters. Those not used in the Beach Drive area would replace the 1960s clock-based meters still in use in other parts of downtown. Those no longer are made, he said, which is why the city is looking at battery-powered ones.

The battery-powered ones are programmable and could even take smart cards instead of change.

"But we are not doing that," Oropesa said.

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