FORT PIERCE — Downtown and the beach area both suffer from parking shortages. But the city is applying different solutions to the problems.
At the beach, the city purchased three lots, and in downtown it imposed a two-hour parking limit. Why the different approaches? It’s because the underlying causes of the shortages differ for each area, officials say.
In downtown, there’s a lack of parking turnover, city Planning Director Rebecca Grohall said.
Downtown has nearly 1,100 spaces, including on-street spots, the City Hall and courthouse garages and vacant lots, a city consultant found. But the on-street spots were used mostly by downtown workers, leaving the two free garages half-empty.
On Sept. 1, the city began enforcing its two-hour limit for downtown, on-street parking from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The city also more than doubled the cost of a parking ticket, from $20 to $50.
City Hall now asks its employees to park in the upper levels of the 465-space garage on Avenue A at U.S.1 to allow downtown workers and the public to use the lower levels.
The result, business owners said, is more foot traffic downtown because customers who plan to be there longer than two hours are using the garage.
“I’ve seen more people walking around and looking in my window and other stores’ windows,” said William Ronan, owner of Affordable Flooring on Orange Avenue. “Some of them stop, and it helps the visibility of my store and I’m sure other stores in downtown.”
Fewer customers also are complaining about lack of parking, said Valorie DeWitt, owner of Visions Hair Styling salon, also on Orange Avenue.
At the beach, the city spent $48,000 to create 100 spaces, leasing and paving three waterfront lots on Seaway Drive west of the Square Grouper restaurant.
The city is studying whether to ask beachside businesses to pay $400 per month to help pay for those spots.
On Oct. 17, the city purchased the Lipshitz Dimmaggio South Beach Market, 301 S. Ocean Drive, for $799,000 but has yet to decide whether to use it for a parking garage or a parking lot.
Despite downtown’s apparent success with two-hour parking, expanding it to the beach isn’t feasible, business owners said.
For one thing, most people spend more than two hours at the beach.
“By the time you haul your stuff from the parking lot to the beach and set it up, you’ve already used an hour,” said David Phillips, manager of Bluewater Beach and Grill on Seaway Drive.
If the city does put a time limit on beach parking, it should be more than two hours to be in line with how the beach is used, said beachgoers Monika Allen and Crystal Ishmael, of Port St. Lucie, who were taking a stroll recently in Jetty Park.
“A lot of people come from inland, and when you are driving for an hour to get to the beach, you don’t want to come only for two hours,” Allen said. “And we have to think about the tourists.They come to our beaches, and they want to spend all day at the beach.”
If Fort Pierce starts charging to park at Jetty Park, beachgoers could park at one of the city or county parks and walk over.
“I know I wouldn’t pay to park at the beach,” Ishmael said.
Keeping unlimited free parking at the beach is unique, Ronan said.
“I will be vehemently opposed to a two-hour parking limit at the beach,” Ronan said. ”Having no parking limit at the beach is part of our charm. No one wants to be at the beach, then have to stop and move their car.”
Compared with the beach, downtown is a more dense, more urban setting. Also, the beach area is seen as a recreation destination area, where visitors plan to stay longer, Grohall said.
“These enforcement efforts are designed to improve businesses’ accessibility by addressing prolonged on-street parking,” Grohall said about downtown parking.
For now, unlimited free parking remains at Jetty Park, the City Hall and county garages and at an unpaved lot on Second Street across from the former H.D. King Power Plant.
Violators will have 30 days to pay their tickets before being slapped with an $18 late fee and issued a summons to appear before the city magistrate. Repeat offenders will be issued a summons to County Court, where they will face higher fines and possible suspension of their licenses if the fine still isn’t paid, according to city law.