Parking garages coming to downtown Sanford?

The 6th annual Pints ‘N Paws craft beer festival brought more than 10,000 people to downtown Sanford on Saturday and raised thousands of dollars for pet charities.

But by Sunday the buzz on social media was about the lack of parking in downtown in response to some vendor having his car towed from the Goodwill parking lot.

Never mind that the lot is clearly marked as a tow-away zone and that festival organizer Paul Williams repeatedly informed vendors prior to the event not to park there. Williams even provided maps of nearby free parking sites as part of the vendor info package.

It’s becoming a typical refrain in recent years, especially after big events like Pints ‘N Paws – “There’s no parking, and the city should do something!”

I’ll gladly engage in a vigorous debate about the availability of parking currently, but as for the city doing something, well, senior managers are beginning to formulate a plan to address the impact of future development in downtown. It’s still early, but the plan has three components.

The first is to beef-up on-street parking. Recently, the city created 30 on-street parking spots along side streets off Sanford Avenue.

Second, the city is partnering with private property owners to use surface parking lots around town. Public Works Director Bilal Iftikhar said in exchange for allowing public parking after 5 p.m. and on weekends, the city is offering to rehab and maintain private parking lots in strategic locations.

Third, city leaders and Seminole County officials are talking about the “G” word – garage.

Yes, there may be a parking garage coming to downtown. It won’t be built soon, and it probably won’t be built where some of y’all want it (which for many folks seems to be in front of the place they frequent).

“We’re in negotiations with Seminole County to partner on a parking structure,” Deputy City Manager Tom Georg told city commissioners two weeks ago.

George said about 400 parking spots downtown would be eliminated as part of a $50 million mixed-use project – known as the catalyst site – the city is currently negotiating with Sanford Waterfront Partners LLC. While the development would build 370 parking spots, many of those would be dedicated to the 235 new residential units that will be built as part of the project.

The majority of the parking that will be lost is on city-owned land used by employees at the Seminole County Civil Courthouse. That parking won’t go away immediately, as the catalyst site project – also known as Heritage Park – would be completed in phases.

George said discussions with the county have centered on building a two-story garage on the existing Sanford City Hall parking lot. Part of the first floor might include offices for either city or county operations, or the space could be leased for retail. With the office space, George estimates the structure could accommodate about 350 cars.

The garage would be used by city and county employees, as well as the public, during the day, and would be available for public use at nights and on weekends.

Before some of y’all poo-poo the idea, consider this: From the clock in Magnolia Square you would walk three blocks to reach a parking garage on City Hall property – one block west and two blocks north.

Plus, development on the west side of downtown is already in the pipeline. Most notably, 96 residential units on the grass lot next to the Sun Trust Bank (“New apartments planned for old SunTrust bank site“) and the still yet-to-be-determined development Mark Nation plans to build a his property three blocks south (“Mark Nation unveils plans for Phase I of downtown project“). The point being, there will be more retail, restaurant and office activity in that area in coming years.

George said he has also reached out to private land owners in other parts of downtown about partnering on a second parking garage. However, those talks are even more preliminary than the ones George is having with the county.

Bottom line, when it comes to parking garages, there are zero hard details about sizes, locations, timelines and funding at this point. Part of George’s purpose in briefing city commissioners about future parking was so they could begin identifying possible revenue sources.

Depending on the cost of concrete and steel, a parking structure cost $12,000 to $20,000 per space. So the price tag on a 350-car garage would be between $4.2 and $7 million.

Plans for more parking are definitely in the works, but it’s going to mean a paradigm shift for some folks. We’re all going to have to walk a little further, and one day, we may even have to pay to park.

For some perspective, Theo Hollerbach tells a great story about when he bought the Willow Tree Cafe. Before it became a juggernaut serving 5,000 guests each week, things were a little slower back in 2001. Back then, you could park right in front of the Willow Tree.

“We used to kick the soccer ball around in the middle of 1st Street,” Hollerbach said. “We hoped by kicking the ball someone would notice us, and they would come into the restaurant.”

Today, forget about playing soccer. There are times when you have to wait several minutes just to cross 1st Street. Hollerbach said he doesn’t see parking as a problem.

“We’ll figure it out,” he said. One solution he’s considering is offering valet parking.

Hollerbach said he is not nostalgic for those in-the-street soccer games and front-door parking. “Those games were great. It was fun, but I like it better now,” Hollerbach said. “I like a full restaurant.”



  1. What about the lots on Locust that used to be section 8 housing? Seems like a good spot for a parking garage.


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