There was an interesting story in today’s Naples Daily News about the city council giving downtown Naples business leaders one more chance to come up with a solution to the area’s parking problems before stepping in to make drastic changes.
Anyone who went anywhere on Fifth Avenue South in the past five months knows just how taxing it can be to find a spot to park, especially on event days or on a Friday or Saturday night.
But the problem has become just as noticeable midday and midweek. I went to a meeting in February at the Naples Art Association’s headquarters at The von Liebig Art Center in Cambier Park. At 1:30 p.m. the meeting, missed the main lunch rush. Still it was only after circling the area a few times did I find a space as someone else vacated it. Another person coming to the meeting left a lunch on Third Street South at 1 p.m. and was 10 minutes late, spending nearly 30 minutes looking for as spot.
In some ways, the dearth of parking is sign of a robust return of our local economy. Business clearly boomed in the first quarter this year. Everyone from real estate agents to liquor distributors have told me of banner seasons and dwindling supplies. But the issue also shows an extreme lack of long-term planning on the part of both the businesses downtown and Naples City Council, both of whom will continue to hold responsibility for this as North Naples shopping areas with more parking and easier access overtake Fifth Avenue as more attractive destinations.
Eager to eek out as much possible space in their high rent district, restaurants applied for outdoor dining permits but asked for waivers to the parking requirements those extra seats would normally call for. City leaders, looking to bring as many people to the area as possible, were all too happy to oblige.
Now we have a situation where the number of parking spaces is barely enough to support the people who work in the area, let alone the thousands of people who come to enjoy those businesses.
None of the solutions put forward so far are particularly pleasing. Time limits on parking, which are required of few spaces at the moment, might give the impression that downtown doesn’t want you to spend much time there. On the other hand, no parking at all will continue to drive people to other areas.
City Council could approve fewer special events, pull back on permits for outdoor dining and do other things to limit the number of people coming to downtown, but that would do nothing other than hurt the businesses who rely on volume traffic to support the astronomical rents, which a few business owners who have priced them out say dwarf some of the most famed business streets in the world when you consider the foot traffic passing by.
The city council has had some opportunities to deal with this issue. Land had been available for building another parking garage on the west end of Fifth Avenue South. But the council, in an effort to keep tax rates at incredibly low levels, did not take advantage of those. Now the best options seem to be to expand current structures by less than 150 spaces, bus in workers from other locations or put some limits on parking by visitors.