Grocery-bag covered merchants plan a Main Street march to City Hall Monday to convince the City Commission to "bag" electronic pay meters on Main Street.
Village President James Derheim is organizing the rally, which is beginning at , on the corner of Main and Lemon, for a 5 p.m. happy hour prior to the march to at 5:45 p.m. The plan is to make it to the Commission Chambers for the 6 p.m. session.
The commission is expected to discuss the meters.
Derheim is urging members of the public who want to participate in the rally Monday to show up with a grocery bag – and write "BAG 'EM" in black – on the bags.
"We on Main Street are being discrimenated against," he said. "St. Armands has no meters, other shopping areas downtown have no meters. Why greater Main Street? Why the core of downtown?"
For Derheim, the meters are a nuisance.
As Derheim spoke with Patch Friday afternoon in front of his shop, a senior couple attempted to pay for parking at one of the meters.
"Watch, he'll try to figure what to do, then it'll time out and he'll have to start all over," Derheim said.
Sure enough, the man was fed up and Derheim went over to see how he could help. The man actually had parked in a 15-minute zone and wanted to eat lunch with his wife, so Derheim proceeded to offer him a space to park and have lunch.
"Due to various signage requirements, he can't see that, and 90 percent of people who park there can't see that," he said.
Similar incidents happen several dozen times, he said.
"I'm supposed to be running my business, but instead I'm running the city's defective pay station program," Derheim said.
Derheim says the meters should be bagged on Tuesday, and two-hour parking signs should be re-installed to allow businesses to breathe and for the city and Main Street merchants to find a permanent solution.
Derheim says that merchants he's worked with would like to see the following:
• A two-to-three hour parking limit "gently controlled" without hefty fines;
• "Dirt-cheap" employee parking for the merchants.
The last point is a systemic problem of the parking program, Derheim said, as restaurant workers are the ones taking up spaces for customers.
"Their employees need a place to park," he said. "There should be parking on the State Street lot for employees; there should be parking on the second level of the garage for employees. The vastly underutilized Palm Avenue garage should have like two decks for employee parking downtown."
Businesses can pay to get a parking pass per month, but for minimum wage earners, that monthly fee could be hefty, he added.
Vice-Mayor Terry Turner wants the meters to go, WWSB reported:
"The parking meters are not being utilized at the rates we expected," says Sarasota Vice-Mayor Terry Turner.
Turner says recent data shows usage only around 20 to 50 percent, that's even at peak times, and he understands how it’s impacting local business. "The big concern is that the parking meters are irritating customers, and customers are going to other locations."
In a memo to the commission by Parking Manager Mark Lyons, paid parking isn't hitting revenue projections. The city waives the fee for first-time offenders, so it lost $57,000 in revenue, he said. Also, there's not enough data to look at historical trends, Lyons wrote.
To Derheim, parking shouldn't be about making money for the city.
"It's a service," he said. "It's not a commodity by which you make money."
The memo also shows that the downtown parking paid for by electronic stations is used about 44 percent of the time.
Lyons told The Herald-Tribune that the system should get better through the season:
"Experts say 85 percent utilization is desirable because that means about 15 percent of spots are available, but streets also will not be too vacant.
Lyons said he is optimistic that use of meters and paystations will increase through the tourist season and pointed out that during peak hours — around lunch time — meters in the downtown core were used about 71 percent of the time."
Not all business owners want the meters bagged, as the Observer found:
"One DSA board member who disagreed with that plan, Chris Gallagher, said he was frustrated that the latest request to bag the meters followed the release of city data showing the meters weren’t bringing in as much revenue as city officials had expected. Instead of the 85% user rate city staff had anticipated, the data showed a 45% usage level since the meters came back online Oct. 1.
At the same time, usage of the Palm Avenue parking garage has yet to exceed the 15% level.
“My recommendation would be for the city not to do another knee-jerk reaction,” Gallagher said. “This was never about how much revenue was collected and was all about freeing up more parking spaces on Main Street.”
In the latter regard, Gallagher said, the meters had been successful."
“I saw an elderly couple get a parking spot on Main Street during the Farmers Market Saturday,” he said, adding that without meters in place, the couple never would have found the space."
IF YOU GO
Bag 'Em Rally and March
5 p.m.: Happy Hour at Mattison's City Grille
5:45 p.m sharp: March from Mattison's on Lemon Avenue and Main Street to City Hall.
What you need: A grocery bag, with holes cut out for vision, and "BAG 'EM" written on it