by Mike Sharkey
Downtown Vision, Inc. and City officials are currently working on a plan to lure people downtown during the lunchtime hours and provide parking for daily employees and diners at the same time.
Mark Rimmer has been hired by DVI as a part-time consultant to DVI’s downtown parking and transportation committee. The idea is to develop a parking/signage system that will help direct people to parking opportunities close to the Landing that have been set aside for that market and others coming downtown between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Tentatively called the “Landing Loop” (DVI plans to come up with a different and permanent name in the near future), the plan is designed to help restaurant patrons find alternative parking during lunch after the Landing lot reaches capacity. Rimmer contends that there is plenty of parking in close proximity to the Landing, the problem is nobody knows where it is or how to get to the surface lots and garages.
“You read all the time that there is no parking downtown during lunch and that simply is not true,” said Rimmer at Wednesday’s Downtown Development Authority meeting. “There are literally hundreds of spots within a block or two of the Landing.”
Rimmer and DVI have determined that so many parking spaces exist during the lunch hour because hundreds of downtown workers and morning visitors leave downtown for lunch. Many of the spaces they occupy are short-term parking, located within a short walk of the Landing.
“There are many private and public parking spaces available during that time frame,” said Rimmer who has his own transportation and parking consulting firm, Realistic Transportation Alternatives.
A meeting set for next week may prove pivotal to the plan’s future.
“Next Wednesday we have a meeting at DVI’s offices with all the parking operators downtown,” said DVI executive director Terry Lorince.
In order to make downtown attractive — and convenient — as a lunch destination, Rimmer hopes to implement a program that will create a fixed parking rate for a specific length of time. At this point, Rimmer believes that many participating lots will agree to $2 for an hour and a half which, he says, is the going rate.
“Some facilities, that’s what they usually charge. Some, that’s exactly what they charge. And for some, that’s a little more,” explained Rimmer.
The other key, according to Rimmer, is to better inform people of their options. The answer is signage and the matter is being addressed through the City’s sign ordinance, which currently frowns on conspicuous parking garage and surface lot signs. Rimmer believes that because he and DVI are working with the DDA to solve the problem and promote downtown, aspects of the sign ordinance can be circumvented.
“The sign ordinance says you can’t put up ‘Parking’ signs and the new sign overlay allows for some of that,” said Rimmer, adding that temporary signs advertising parking are also restricted. “But if the DDA is helping sponsor this and it’s a City initiative, we are exempt from that regulation.
“This has to be a cooperative effort between public and private sides to get it done.”
Unlike other cities with parking validation policies, the plan does not directly involve downtown restaurants or businesses. Patrons will not have to ask their server or anyone else to validate their parking.
“We realize parking will always be an issue downtown,” said Rimmer. “We don’t want parking to be the issue downtown.”
At the meeting, the DDA also a approved a $5,000 grant to help pay for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new Downtown Mobility Guide. The guide can currently be found in about 25 Northbank and Southbank restaurants and businesses. However, once the new Southbank trolley route — the Hibiscus Trolley Loop — is established next month, JTA plans to distribute a new mobility guide to dozens of new businesses. Between printing and creative costs, the new guide will cost about $20,000 and JTA officials have asked the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, the Chamber and the Convention Bureau to share the cost.
“We are a partner in this,” said Joanne Kazmierski, marketing coordinator for JTA. “The new guide is outside our normal budget. This is a one-time inducement just like when we came to you [the JEDC] for $50,000 for the Southbank Trolley.”
The money will come from the Southbank Community Redevelopment Area Trust Fund, the same source the JEDC used to help JTA partner with the Florida Department of Transportation to fund much of the new trolley route. Each entity involved will pitch in $5,000 for the new mobility guide.