TREASURE ISLAND — When this city’s signature sand sculpture festival comes to town next weekend, the need for more parking will become obvious.
Almost every time Treasure Island hosts one of its dozen events by the Gulf, parking lots fill, and oftentimes cars are directed to park on part of the beach, a practice that has drawn a legal complaint from adjacent hoteliers.
But after a lengthy and expensive feasibility study to weigh a possible 350-car parking garage, city staff concluded there actually aren’t enough people coming to the beach to warrant spending the estimated $6 million it would take to build.
“We have high demand for beach parking when we have special events,” City Manager Reid Silverboard said.
The problem is the days such as Wednesday and Thursday this week: cooler offseason weather, meaning empty spaces at public access points and in front of local shops.
Silverboard told commissioners at a recent meeting that, day-to-day, the revenue generated at a parking garage either by the beach or downtown wouldn’t make up for the upfront costs of building it and that the city doesn’t have the extra cash to move forward right now.
The City Commission had ordered a $10,000 study to determine if there was a cost-effective solution to the nagging issue that’s caused tensions with hoteliers, who say beach parking during events hurts their business.
A trio of hotel owners filed a legal complaint last month claiming that beach parking violates state environmental laws.
The city attorney has said Treasure Island works closely with the state Department of Environmental Protection and that all beach events are in compliance with the law.
Additional parking has been a part of the city’s long-term plans, which includes redeveloping Treasure Island’s small downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly, eliminating parking lots in front of businesses and bringing the buildings up to the sidewalk.
Parking garages have helped accommodate a growing number of visitors to other beach cities, such as Clearwater Beach and Madeira Beach.
Treasure Island officials had also considered a public-private partnership with beach businesses such as the Bilmar Hotel, Walgreens and Sloppy’s Joe’s on Gulf Boulevard, but that didn’t pan out.
In the future, the city may require developers to contribute money to a parking garage in lieu of providing their own parking spaces, Silverboard said.
In the short-term, he said the city could look at smaller scale options such as expanding the surface parking at the Gulf Front Park, where most events are held.
Some Gulf Boulevard business owners say the city needs to speed up the process, even if it means investing several million dollars with no immediate return.
“If you’re going to consider yourself an area for tourism, you’ve got to invest some money to make some money,” said Anita Baitinger, assistant manager at the boutique Tracey’s Treasures.
Troy Carter, who runs the Candy Kitchen shop, likens parking to other critical infrastructure.
“How much money do we spend on storm drains? And they give us nothing back,” Carter said.
A parking solution needs to remain a focus for the city, Commissioner Tim Ramsberger said at a recent workshop.
“If we know there’s no plans in our near term, let alone long-term, to have a solution to this, it’s going to be a challenge for us as a commission to entertain special event issues on the beach,” he said.