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Parking along the streets of Fifth Ave. South has always been scarce but free. Consultant Bob Gibbs says the city should consider parking meters for those prime spots as shoppers would be willing to pay for them and store employees wouldn't.  Michel Fortier/Staff

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER

Parking along the streets of Fifth Ave. South has always been scarce but free. Consultant Bob Gibbs says the city should consider parking meters for those prime spots as shoppers would be willing to pay for them and store employees wouldn't. Michel Fortier/Staff

Fifth Avenue South

Naples, FL

— Parking’s a problem.

The solution: Think about limiting how long shoppers can park on the street.

That’s the message Robert Gibbs sent to the Naples City Council earlier this month during a discussion about improvements to the Fifth Avenue South shopping district in downtown Naples.

“We think you are losing a lot of commerce because of your parking shopping,” consultant Gibbs said. “(Shoppers are) doing more shopping in 10 minutes than her mother did in two hours.”

Gibbs offered up two suggestions — time limitations on parking and parking meters — that he said could increase the number of people who park on Fifth Avenue South each day.

The mention of parking meters left some City Council members wondering whether it is a good idea.

“I’m looking to get to a time limit without putting in a meter,” Councilwoman Dee Sulick said.

While the city’s two downtown parking garages are good for people hoping to stroll the street, Gibbs said the modern shopper is willing to “pay for the luxury of time.”

“By 10 a.m. every stall (on the street) is taken, and those are likely not diners and shoppers,” Gibbs said. “We estimate that every on-street parking stall translates to sales.”

Parking limitations, or meters, are a rarity at shopping centers in Southwest Florida. Fifth Avenue South’s competitors to the north in Collier County — Waterside Shops and the Mercato — offer free parking.

But Gibbs said those areas have both the ample parking and shopping opportunities for visitors, unlike Fifth Avenue South.

On-street parking is important, said urban planner Justin Auciello, because “sufficient parking breeds feet on the street.”

“The only way to keep the cycle operating properly is to ensure that people can access a downtown shopping district without getting frustrated, driving around in circles and polluting the air,” Auciello said in an e-mail.

Lou Vlasho, chairman of the Naples Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board and a Fifth Avenue South merchant, said he agrees there is a need for a parking analysis of the street.

While the parking garages — which have a 2-hour time limit — have helped, Vlasho said he recognizes the need to look into more efficient ways to get those feet on the street.

But Vlasho, like council members, wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of asking visitors to pay to park.

“I don’t know I would go as far as parking meters,” he said. “When I visit other cities, I have no problem feeding the meters, because that’s what they do. But a lot of people don’t like parking meters.”

Auciello said free parking in downtown shopping districts, where space is at a premium, is a rarity and he’s found that “shoppers are willing to pay for the experience of enjoying time in an aesthetically pleasing and functional downtown.”

Beth Ressler, owner of the Wind in the Willows, said she doesn’t support the idea of parking meters on the street, but did say landlords and store owners should have their employees park off-site.

Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke said the city isn’t jumping into any long-term parking changes as a result of the report.

Reinke said the city is looking into Gibbs’ recommendations, but that if the city moves “forward with changes to parking, it will be in a way that we test what we’re doing.”

While parking meters aren’t ruled out, Reinke said he doesn’t think they will make an appearance on the popular street.

“We didn’t sense a lot of support for parking meters on Fifth Avenue,” he said. “We’re more interested in the best way to turn over parking spaces, not to turn over revenue. It’s more about helping the business on Fifth than it is about parking.”

_ Connect with Naples reporter Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jenna-buzzacco

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