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Date of Issue: February 01, 2007

Parking discussions continue in Bradenton Beach

"There is a parking problem in Bradenton Beach, no doubt."

That assessment from the city's parking czar/facilitator/consultant Alan Garrett was met with tacit approval from the 30 or so residents and business people in attendance at last Wednesday's town hall forum on parking problems in the city.

The sticky issue of where to put cars so residents and visitors can easily enjoy shops, restaurants and taverns in the city appears to be the key to unlock the parking problem.

Bradenton Beach, with arguably the largest public park in Manatee County at Coquina Beach, is home to a huge amount of available parking spaces. The problem is that the parking is in convenient for shoppers in the "downtown" area of Bridge Street, with its 97 spaces for vehicles, spaces that have to do double duty for business patrons, employees, beachgoers and anyone else who wants to enjoy the area.

Garrett has been charged with trying to wrestle a solution out of the parking dilemma. Last week was the "blue sky" time for those in attendance: Just suggest a plan, cost be damned, to give the critical business core with its critical parking needs a way to accommodate more vehicles.

Solutions involved everything from more trolley usage to public-private parking garages.

"Traffic is here to stay," said David Teitelbaum, owner of two resorts and developer of a condominium project in the city. "People are too attached to their cars. They want to come to Bridge Street, but they can't find a place to park. The solution is to use a parking garage, and camouflage it to accommodate the needs of the community."

He suggested public-private partnerships to create the facility.

Resort owner Barbara Rodocker of Bridgewalk, also owner of Sun House Restaurant at Gulf Drive and Bridge Street, was a more specific. She suggested a vacant lot on Bridge Street could be used for a parking structure, as well as utilizing the space above the Beach Bazaar. Retail could be on the first level, with parking above to the maximum three-levels that city codes allow.

Resident Carl Parks brought the discussion back from the blue-sky point to earth. Bradenton Beach doesn't have a parking problem 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, he said, but there is a problem during high season. That time frame is exacerbated by business employees parking in prime spots for lengthy periods of time as well as people going to the beach for extended stays.

"There is so much parking available at Coquina Beach," said BeachHouse Restaurant owner Ed Chiles. "We need to utilize it."

Trams from the beach to the downtown core were suggested by others, as were valet parking services, vacant lots transformed temporarily as parking lots and better use of existing parking spaces.

Parking czar Garrett said he would be walking the city in the next few weeks in an effort to provide some "parking-truth" data on what is in place now in terms of numbers of spaces and other areas that could be better utilized for vehicles.

He lauded Bridgewalk for having a compact-car space under a stairwell for parking, and hinted that similar tucked-away areas could be created. Previously, he suggested that one-way traffic for Bridge Street and First Street could enhance the number of vehicles parked in the downtown area, and the extent of the expansion of parking spaces is expected to be addressed when the next meeting is held at 5 p.m. Feb. 7 at city hall.

Former city commissioner Scott Barr offered another suggestion to the group which drew a number of nodding heads.

"We need to plan ahead," he said. "Not just for the next few months, but 30 and 50 years."