Parking may soon be at a premium for visitors of Zephyrhills’ downtown businesses. That is unless city officials decide to pay up to keep some private parking lots open to the public.
Leases signed in 2003 have expired on three lots in and around the city’s Fifth Avenue business district. Whether they will be renewed or not could depend on if those lot owners will go from free leases to paid leases.
“We’ve talked to some of the property owners (of the parking lots), and I think they would like to see the city purchase them,” said Todd Vande Berg, director of development services for Zephyrhills. “They had been free before, but now I think the owners would like to get some money.”
The three lots are scattered in key spots around the downtown district. They include:
• The southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street not far from the First Baptist Church.
• A larger parcel owned by the neighboring Village Inn restaurant on the west side of Seventh Street south of Fifth Avenue where the Tourist Club used to operate shuffleboard courts.
• A third lot just south of City Hall between Fifth and Sixth avenues, on the west side of Eighth Street, controlled by the owners of the former Wachovia Bank location on Fifth Avenue.
No matter what the city decides to do with those leases, downtown can’t afford to lose valuable parking, especially when special events take place on Fifth Avenue, said Marvin Matteson, an owner of K&M Travel.
“I would hate to see the city give them up, but I would also hate to see the city get ripped off in a lease,” said Matteson, who has operated his business on Fifth Avenue for more than 15 years.
Some residents already complain that parking is difficult in the downtown section, even though parking a block or two away is still closer than most people can park in front of Walmart on the north side of town, Matteson said. Still, his employees and others use the leased lots to free up on-street parking in front of the businesses.
“That would be upsetting to our people, and I know it would really tick some of them off,” he said.
Most of the leased parking is used for special events downtown, like the homecoming parade put on last week by Zephyrhills High School, said Main Street Zephyrhills executive director Gina King Granger.
“On a day-to-day basis, the parking that we have downtown, I think, is fine,” she said. “But these additional parking lots, they are critical when it comes to having all the events we put on downtown. And we do put on a lot.”
Granger said city officials have to be sure to think long-range about parking, and not just the needs of today. There are two large buildings in the heart of downtown that remain vacant right now, but if they were to become occupied, it could create a shortage of parking spaces depending on what kind of businesses can be attracted there.
“Sometimes, the lack of parking down here can be a deterrent,” Granger said. “Even if there is parking available off the street, if people don’t see it, they may not want to stop and shop at the businesses that we already have here.”
Vande Berg is completing his report in the next week, and expects to bring the results to city council at some point in October. Either way, it will be hard to ignore the bigger picture in all of this — especially as the city plans to expand its downtown offerings to include Gall Boulevard once it reverts from the Florida Department of Transportation to the city.
“That has really been the spine through the city for all these years, but because it was under the control of DOT, there wasn’t much we could do with it,” Vande Berg said. “But now we are looking at all kinds of options along Gall Boulevard, maybe even on-street parking, so we might have some options when it comes to parking.”
City council meetings this month are scheduled for Oct. 14 and Oct. 28, beginning at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
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