When the owner of SoHo Saloon asked the Tampa City Council to expand the bar’s liquor license a few months ago, some council members had reservations.
They worried about the number of bars already on South Howard Avenue, and the party atmosphere for which the area increasing is known. They were concerned about noise. And they worried about additional traffic.
Parking already is in high demand in SoHo, a popular commercial district that parallels the Hyde Park neighborhood.
“It’s clearly a very big problem,” said council member Harry Cohen, who represents District Four in South Tampa. He voted at the February hearing to deny the saloon’s request.
More than 20 restaurants and bars are squeezed onto the southern end of Howard Avenue. On weekend nights, particularly, parking is hard to find.
Many people compete for the existing spaces, while others use taxis or take advantage of sometimes-complimentary valet service at the different venues. Regular SoHo patrons post advice about the best places to park – for free and without getting ticketed -- on online message boards.
As the economy improves, more people will want to open bars in the popular SoHo district, and some owners of businesses already there want to expand. But under city law they would have to create more parking on a stretch where there isn’t much undeveloped space remaining.
“When you have a situation where a neighborhood appears to be overburdened, and there’s not enough parking, you have to be very careful about what you do going forward,” Cohen said. “You don’t want to do anything to exacerbate the problem.”
The number of parking spaces required for a bar or restaurant is determined by its allowed occupancy under city code. Any exception to the required number of spaces must be approved by the city council.
Cohen said the level of scrutiny on such requests is going to increase as the SoHo district becomes more crowded.
“Most people that park down the street are not homeowners, and they do not have respect for our property,” said Anneliese Meier, a member of the Parkland Estates Civic Club.
A group of neighbors is rallying this week to protest a proposed restaurant that would have a 4,000-square-foot outdoor deck. The restaurant’s owner plans to ask the city council to waive 72 of its code-required 74 parking spaces.
The restaurant, if approved, would lease property at 308 S. Howard Ave., the current site of The Other Side Antiques.
A new bar probably will draw more people than an antique shop, said John Jones, a member of the Historic Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.
“That’s the kind of thing that’s just generating more traffic into the neighborhood and that makes matters worse,” he said.
When parking waivers are issued, Cohen said, the city council can’t take them back. Sometimes the council approves a waiver because the business owner signed a lease somewhere else so customers can park off-site. But while the waivers are permanent, the leases normally last for a limited time.
“These are some of the wrinkles that get into these things,” Cohen said.
Not all the bars on SoHo struggle with parking.
With more than 380 parking spots, there is ample parking at the Yard of Ale and MacDinton’s Irish Pub, said Barry O’Connor, co-owner of the two popular businesses.
He said he also has seen more people using taxi cabs when they come to SoHo. Most bar patrons are aware they aren’t allowed to park in the nearby residential neighborhoods, he said.
“I think they’ve gotten used to the idea,” he said.
And most neighbors, while they worry about the parking situation, aren’t against people having fun in SoHo, said Tim Glisson, who lives in the Courier City neighborhood near where the new restaurant would go.
If you live in Tampa, Glisson said, SoHo is a desirable neighborhood. But there already are a lot of bars in a cramped space.
“Now you’re at a tipping where it’s excessive,” Glisson said. “You need balance and diversity.”