To most of the patrons of Clearwater's new Main Library, the term "Library Parking" had become an oxymoron, much like the term "Jumbo Shrimp"; only 36 parking spaces had been reserved for library patrons at the 90,000 square foot facility. Faced with an increasing number of complaints through the summer months about the shortage of spaces, Library Director John Szabo undertook an effort that resulted in a parking solution having not one, but four components.
Szabo's first action was to acquire an eight-passenger golf cart to shuttle patrons between the library and the 252 parking spaces below the bluff that are shared with Coachman Park. The vehicle was purchased in mid-August at a cost of $8,100, but to date it has not carried a single library patron passenger. Szabo explained the reason for the cart's disuse: a lack of volunteer drivers. The cart now sits idle in the library garage, unable to be moved because of the boxes full of books that block access to the garage door. The Library is seeking volunteer drivers; contact Jeff Gifford at 562-4970 extension 5206 if you have interest.
Szabo's second effort was to secure additional parking where it would not require patrons to climb and descend the 28-foot bluff; he succeeded, securing a lease on 72 parking spaces on land owned by Brown Arnold Properties at a cost of $1,500 per month. Those spaces are at the corner of Drew Street and Osceola Avenue, the location of the Library's temporary home during the construction of the new facility. Lee Arnold of Brown-Arnold Properties said that the City is paying half the market rate for those spaces and added, "We're not covering our taxes and maintenance."
Szabo found an even more financially attractive solution directly across Osceola Avenue from the Library's main entrance. For an astonishing sum of $2 per year per space, the Library is leasing 20 spaces from Clearwater Development, LLC, the owners of the Am South property. Tom Wright, spokesperson for Clearwater Development and its principal investor Elias Jafif, said, "Our partners are very happy to help the City out and will continue to do so."
The last piece of the Library parking puzzle was found during an examination of the Stein Mart lease; "What was previously considered parking exclusive to Stein Mart is really shared," said Szabo. This discovery added another 138 parking spaces for use by library patrons, and those are located where streets don't need to be crossed and hills don't need to climbed.
The last solution seems to be the most desirable to library patrons. On a recent Tuesday morning, the 138 shared spaces between the Library and Stein Mart were nearly full, while only 6 of the 73 Brown-Arnold and 4 of the Am South spaces were occupied. But what's good for the library might be bad for Stein Mart. On that same Tuesday morning, the Stein Mart store was nearly empty; the parking lot was full of library patrons, not customers.
Over a period of several months, the Main Library's parking capacity has increased from 36 to 266 spaces, plus an additional 252 spaces below the bluff that might receive use if the Library's golf cart was operational. To some, this seems to be too much capacity, especially considering the cost of the Brown-Arnold lease and the price tag of the golf cart. Szabo said during the October 4 City Council Work Session that the Brown-Arnold lease was month-to-month and could be terminated easily by either party, saving the City $1,500 per month if its capacity proved to be unneeded. The golf cart is a different issue; it was purchased for $8,100, not leased, and with low demand for patron parking below the bluff and a lack of volunteer drivers, its disuse may continue.
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