BRADENTON BEACH – There isn’t much community support for closing Bridge Street to vehicular traffic, but some rare and limited public support exists for building a parking garage near the Bradenton Beach police station a few blocks away.
The notion of closing Bridge Street or reducing it to one lane was discussed at an open town meeting at city hall on Wednesday, Feb. 6. The purpose of the evening meeting was to give residents and business owners an opportunity to provide architectural designer Emily Anne Smith with their thoughts on closing or reconfiguring Bridge Street, which runs through the heart of the downtown business district.
More than 30 people attended the meeting and were provided with a seven-page document titled “Parking Study for Town Meeting.”
Two pages were dedicated to the number of seats and parking spaces Smith counted at the bars, restaurants and businesses along Bridge Street – including Commissioner Jake Spooner’s soon-to-be-built retail and restaurant building.
According to Smith, there will be 1,157 seats and 214 parking spaces once Spooner’s new building opens. Eight-two of the existing parking spaces are private, and Smith’s figures don’t include shoppers who aren’t also visiting dining and drinking establishments. Smith’s document also notes there are 173 employees working in the Bridge Street businesses.
“Parking has always been the problem in this town,” she said, noting that she finds it amazing that there are so many places to eat and drink along one small-town street.
As part of her yet-to-be-developed master plan for the city’s CRA district, Smith envisions a bright red Bradenton Beach Choo-Choo – an electric tram that provides free transport to and from the public parking south of Bridge Street at Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach.
Joe Cuervo and his son Tommy own the Drift In at the east end of Bridge Street. Tommy questioned whether people would be willing to drive past Bridge Street to park and catch a tram. He said when he goes somewhere with his wife and young children he has no desire to drive beyond his intended destination or load strollers onto a tram. He also noted Drift In has its own parking lot and said he and his dad oppose any plans to close Bridge Street.
Joe Cuervo joined Tommy in his opposition to closing the street but said he would have no problem making it a one-way street. Anna Maria Oyster Bar President John Horne said he liked the idea of a one-way Bridge Street with angled parking because it would create more parking.
Resident Dan Morhaus noted you can often walk faster than a tram that gets stuck in traffic.
BridgeWalk resort owner Angela Rodocker likes the idea of closing Bridge Street and converting it into small parks and public spaces.
“I think it would be beautiful,” she said, noting that it would also be safer for pedestrians.
Rodocker said she and others have been talking about Bridge Street’s parking problems since a parking and congestion committee was formed in 1998.
“We’ve all had to protect our lots like crazy,” she said of those who have their own parking lots.
Rodocker said she doesn’t understand the opposition to a parking garage when it’s based primarily on the claim that a parking garage can’t be visually attractive.
Business owner Samantha Heil fears closing Bridge Street would further reduce the already limited parking and negatively impact those businesses.
Pines Trailer Park resident Fidencia Pla was among the residents who expressed concerns that reconfiguring the Bridge Street’s traffic flow would divert more traffic through the residential neighborhoods along Church Street North and Bay Drive South.
Business owner Mark Mayo said, “We need to get the parking off Bridge Street,” and he mentioned using the current city hall property for parking if a new city hall is built elsewhere.
Former City Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said she 100 percent disagreed with putting public parking right across the street from the Gulf of Mexico. She then suggested a parking garage near the police station.
City Engineer Lynn Burnett said making Bridge Street a one-way street and building a parking garage nearby would open up several options.
Last year, City Commissioners unanimously adopted two ordinances that prevent the construction of a stand-alone or multi-level parking garage anywhere in the city. Any plans to build a parking garage would require those ordinances to be amended. No decisions were made at last week’s meeting and these discussions will continue.