Commissioners agree to search for third-party contractor for potential paid parking downtown and the beaches

FORT PIERCE – In what they called a difficult decision to make, city commissioners here directed staff Feb. 1 to draft a request for proposal for a third-party contractor to run paid parking operations both downtown and at Fort Pierce Beach should they ultimately implement the first paid parking lots on the Treasure Coast.

They did not, however, actually vote on the recommendations by the Parking Committee to approve the RFP and paid parking but rather did so by consensus, which precluded any one commissioner from taking most of the heat. That consensus came at the end of a presentation provided by Walker Parking Consultants on the update of the firm’s original parking study completed in 2016. The company’s director of planning, Jim Corbett, had worked on the original proposal five years ago and now described the firm’s recommendations and potential timeline if Fort Pierce goes through with the idea.

“There are a number of initial objectives that should really be pursued, and on that list is to make sure the city charter allows paid parking zones for on-street [and] paid-parking lots,” he said. “The other part of that is the parking fine resolution. We find that a number of communities will implement paid parking with a parking fine that is not substantial enough to adjust behavior.”

Mr. Corbett told commissioners that issuing the RFP and launching a communication program to educate the public could in itself last six to 12 months. He also suggested using a system of parking ambassadors for issuing citations and educational purposes rather than traditional uniformed officers.

“As we talk into that six-month-to-12-month [phase], you want to make sure you’ve got that RFP out, whether it is for the multi-space meters – which we’re seeing more prevalent today – versus a single-space meter,” he explained. “The last piece is the permit and enforcement solution, but in order to make the program efficient, you’ve got to have that component. Assuming you would have an ambassador program, you would have folks on the street to communicate and work with the general public.”

Walker Parking Senior Consultant Tom Szubka then described a series of level-of-service bands that Fort Pierce could implement, based on the convenience level of the parking spots. With these, the city would charge a higher rate for those spaces within a shorter walk of the most popular venues downtown. Level of Service A spots would be within a 400-foot walking radius, while Level of Service B within an 800-foot distance. Level of Service C would be about a five-minute walk, and the city would still offer outer bands of free parking at a longer distance.

“What it boils down to in a sensible sense is supply and demand,” he said. “You guys have already instituted the time limits in certain parts of downtown, and that is effective to a point. When that is no longer is effective, then the next step would be to move into that pricing model and letting the market help manage the inventory that you have.”

The proposed parking model would utilize the City Hall parking structure as a free parking spot for both employees of the city and local businesses, as well as promote multimodal forms of transportation from the outer parking bands.

“It encourages the use of additional methods if the patrons want to avoid the charge or the time limits of parking,” Mr. Szubka added. “It’s a park-and-ride concept of keeping the [free] parking to the exterior and having micro-transit opportunities, [such as] bikes, scooters, pedicabs or electric vehicles that can bring folks from the less desirable parking into the downtown core.”

Mayor Linda Hudson expressed satisfaction that the City Hall parking garage would still be free.

“When that garage was built, there was a lot of concern that only city employees would park there and eventually we would charge other people,” she recalled. “I just want to make sure for the public’s clarification that this isn’t just for employees of the city, [but] it’s for employees that work downtown and want to park there.”

Mayor Hudson also worried about elderly residents potentially being forced to pay electronically with cell phones.

“That is daunting for some people,” she said.

Mr. Szubka concurred with that assessment and emphasized education would be paramount.

“That’s where the communication program becomes so vital and essential to rolling this out, not just for an aging population but any population,” he said. “We really want to make this easy, provide grace periods [and] roll it out in a way that makes it friendlier.”

Mr. Corbett emphasized that coins would still be accepted as an alternate payment method and hoped that either ambassadors or the parking public would help each other out in a pinch.

“We do see the industry moving more today toward that electronic paying option as the solution,” he chimed in. “That can be a little daunting for some folks, especially if they’re not familiar with that. But it is the type of situation [where] folks begin to show each other how easy it is when they’re on the street.”

Commissioner Curtis Johnson admitted to having dealt with such systems while living in Chicago and knows it will be an adjustment.

“It’s going to be a unique experience for Fort Pierce,” he said. “I know it’s going to be some serious growing pains for us, but I’m sure we can work through it.”

After everyone else had spoken, Commissioner Thomas Perona recalled that five years earlier no one in the city was ready to make the call on paid parking.

“This isn’t the first time, and you keep telling us the same thing over and over,” he said. “I remember five years ago it came back to the Parking Committee, and we all sat there and looked at it and said, yeah, it sounds great. I said to [City Manager] Nick Mimms, go ahead and institute that, [and he said] no, you institute it, and I said, I’m not going to institute it. Nobody wants to pull the trigger on this because the culture we have in Fort Pierce has been one way forever.”

Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson ultimately did just that though, after Parking Committee Chairman Michael Broderick told the Board that the Downtown Business Alliance was “100 percent behind” the idea of paid parking downtown.

“I like the three [parts of the plan] recommended from the Committee,” Commissioner J. Johnson told his fellow Board members. “The paid parking, the level of service areas and the RFP.”

“I second that,” Commissioner Perona said, chuckling since he knew it wasn’t really a motion.

Commissioner C. Johnson then asked if Commissioner J. Johnson’s recommendation included the beach parking areas and if he really had made a motion.

“Yes, [and] no I didn’t,” Commissioner J. Johnson responded.

“I made him make a motion,” Commissioner Perona continued jokingly.

“He seconded it,” Mayor Hudson chimed in.

When City Clerk Linda Cox told the group she only needed a consensus for a non-agenda item, Mr. Mimms said he’d get the ball rolling if they’d just say the word.

“I am anticipating this is anywhere from a nine-to-18-month process,” he said. “This is not going to be something we do overnight, but we’ve got to get started at some point.”

“Mr. Mimms you’ve got consensus,” Mayor Hudson responded.

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