Ideas come and go. Sometimes, they come back again.
That’s the case with the idea of building a parking garage on the old J.C. Penney lot on Indian River Drive in downtown Fort Pierce.
More than a decade ago, the city planned to build a 309-space garage there to alleviate parking pressure downtown.
Yet, after delays caused by the hurricanes of 2004, the project was scuttled by a variety of design and expense issues. Nevertheless, a private developer, Hans Kraaz, recently has suggested he might build something similar on the same site.
City Commissioner Tom Perona is chairman of the city’s parking committee. The resident group has been active in seeking extra parking all over the city, including another high-pressure area, Jetty Park on South Beach.
When Kraaz resurrected the J.C. Penney garage idea, Perona said his first reaction was “no way.” Yet the more he thought about it, the more sense it made, he told me last week. His fellow committee members concurred.
The idea has received pushback from Mayor Linda Hudson, who doubts the wisdom of using prime waterfront property for parking.
But allowing a multi-story garage on the J.C. Penney site could free up surface spaces elsewhere on the waterfront, such as Marina Square and land adjacent to St. Andrews School, for higher and better uses, Perona argued.
We’ve been talking about parking problems in Fort Pierce for as long as I’ve been here, almost 30 years. I dug up a sheaf of old stories dating back to 2000 that all came to the same conclusion: We need more spaces because of booming development demand.
That was true during the boom of the early 2000s, when several downtown multistory housing developments were given the green light. In the end, only the Renaissance building actually got built. But it does have its own parking garage inside the structure.
Back in 2005, delays and mounting costs for the J.C. Penney garage prompted city leaders to find a faster and cheaper solution. They wound up building a new garage on the parking lot behind City Hall.
Yet, as many of us warned at the time, that simply isn’t a very good spot for a garage. It sits west of the railroad and, when a train is parked in the way, the location has the unfortunate tendency to maroon patrons of the Sunrise Theatre on the wrong side of the tracks.
Welcome to the Sunrise City, visitors.
The garage also is a good walk away from waterfront festivals, the farmers market and Friday Fest. As a result, it sits virtually empty much of the time.
According to St. Lucie County Facilities Manager (and District 2 City Commissioner) Jeremiah Johnson, old plans to add more decks to the county garage across from the courthouse are dead in the water for cost reasons.
Having a shortage of parking downtown is, of course, not necessarily a bad problem to have. It’s a sign the city is at last attracting new retail businesses and patrons. I’ve written recently about the vitality of some of these new millennial-fueled enterprises, such as the Sailfish Brewery and the upscale Galleria of Shops, both on Second Street.
Anthony Westbury: Resurgence in downtown Fort Pierce as galleries, brewery come alive
Something similar is happening on South Beach in the Jetty Park area, which is fast becoming a popular entertainment district in its own right.
Finding a parking space there on weekends is harder than landing a trophy fish at the Jetty. The city has scrambled to add grass surface lots to keep up with demand.
Yet, as Perona said, more food and drinking places are coming in the near future. They’ll soon eat up those extra spots, too.
Perona’s parking committee has been studying how best to fix that problem. Within three or four years, we might see a small parking garage go up across from a beach access just south of the Jetty area.
Meanwhile, the city is readying a surface lot behind a small convenience store on A1A to ease the parking pressure.
I see one big change likely in the very near future: paying to park in Fort Pierce. That’s always been a big bugaboo for merchants and politicians alike, who’ve long feared making motorists fork over hard cash to park would kill retail business.
That’s something I think we’re going to have to get used to all over town. It’s the price of growing up as a destination. Perona noted the question of charging a daily fee has come up in negotiations with developer Kraaz on the J.C. Penney project.
Some high-tech parking aids also could be on the entrance ramp. Perona mentioned an electronic capacity sign which will warn drivers when the existing city garage is full. At the moment, drivers are left to motor fruitlessly around the upper floors only to emerge at the exit, tempers and blood pressure flaring.
And one day we might be able to consult our smartphones about where parking is available anywhere in downtown. Perona said talks are ongoing with a vendor to make that a reality.
If there’s an app for that, I’d love one on my iPhone.
At this rate, perhaps we’ll finally stop writing about parking woes in another 10 years. If you believe that, can I interest you in one of those flying cars?
Anthony Westbury is a columnist for TCPalm. This column reflects his opinion. Contact him at 772-221-4220, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @TCPalmWestbury.
Article source: http://www.tcpalm.com/story/opinion/columnists/anthony-westbury/2017/06/16/anthony-westbury-build-and-they-park-fort-pierce-hopes-so/392568001/