Saturday, January 29, 2022

Tales of a South Beach Parking Garage



Donna Fiala

Many have already heard or read rumors and innuendos about a supposed “parking garage” at South Beach. Being that I’ve been involved from the start, let me tell you how it began and where it is now. Will it happen? We have no idea.

As your county commissioner, I was approached by some property owners on Marco Island who explained all the problems they were having with parking spaces for the South Beach area. They asked how the county would feel about building a parking deck over the parking spaces on our side of the county parking area that already existed. Of course I had no idea, but I promised to take the idea back to our Parks & Recreation Dept. for discussion. Meanwhile, I suggested to them that they needed to talk with property owners in the area to gauge what the sentiment would be.

The county has spoken to MICA many times over the years asking if it could rent, lease or buy its adjoining parking area to help with the parking situation, but MICA wasn’t agreeable to doing that. Instead, the county tried to help by improving the parking situation at Tigertail Beach by building five new boardwalks to connect with the wider end of the beach, and also by building a “nature friendly” bathroom facility for use by beachgoers at that end of the parking area (soon to be two bathrooms). Currently, the county is in the process of upgrading and improving the appearance of the nature friendly parking area, which holds well over 150 cars. The county also worked with the Planning Board to get signs approved to direct people coming from off-island that there was closer access to the water at Tigertail. The parking lot has been full many, many times since then. The parking is free if the car has a beach parking sticker in place, or $8.00 for others.

Still, the problem exists and the parking issue is becoming worse and worse at South Beach, especially now with all the wonderful designations that Marco has won over recent years as the destination people most want to visit, so we have many more renters coming to Marco than before, with many winter guests also enjoying our gorgeous weather. It’s an interesting situation. We love to be the best, and we’re proud of it. Yet, because we’re the best, we are more crowded than ever.

The county staff got together to analyze the parking deck idea and put together a plan with a cost factor. The plan calls for more lush landscaping to make the structure attractive (if you’ve ever been to Vanderbilt Beach, you cannot even find the parking garage because of the bountiful landscaping) and mostly hidden from condominiums. What we didn’t expect was that someone would write about it as though it were a done-deal, when we hadn’t even approached anyone about it yet. I hadn’t even talked to my Island’s Advisory Committee about it. Over the summer, staff prepared a preliminary sketch with some corresponding costs. Meanwhile, some of the property owners wanted to check to see how residents would like the idea. Of course this parking deck and landscaping would be paid entirely out of TDC dollars, which Marco Island is entitled to. With all these things still way out in the planning field, nothing could even be done for at least a year, if not two years, IF the idea were accepted. I’ve actually had people say loudly to me, “We will not spend tax dollars on YOUR parking garage!” Wow, that one hit me between the eyes. We never even thought of using tax dollars when the Hilton and Marriott generate so many bed-tax dollars that we would like to spend on Marco Island, and so would they.

And it isn’t a parking garage. Heck, it isn’t even anything yet. It is still in the preliminary talking stages! And somehow the county looks like the villain when the idea was presented to US to help the beach parking conditions on Marco Island and to be paid from TDC dollars. At some point, level heads need to sit down together and discuss the issue to see if it would even be something to be considered! I’ve now had a joint meeting with my Island’s Advisory Committee, along with our Parks and Recreation Department, and two officers with the Property Owners Association, who answered all the questions, explained where we are today, and listened to my advisors as to what they feel about the issue.

That’s where we are today! Nothing more, nothing less. NOW, you have the real story, no edification nor innuendos.

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