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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Parking in downtown Ocala discussed amidst denial of renting lot of former auto shop

Ocala officials discussed parking in downtown Ocala last week after denying a request by a local business owner to use and manage his lot as additional city parking for $2,500 a month.

During the August 15 meeting of the Ocala City Council, council members discussed a variety of parking issues that they believe need to be addressed in downtown Ocala.

The issue of parking in downtown Ocala came up as a result of a proposed lease between the city and Domach, LLC, to manage the parking lot at 210 W. Silver Springs Boulevard.

The building that formerly occupied the space, European Car Clinic, was demolished earlier this year. According to city staff, the property will remain undeveloped for at least the next 14 months.

Parking lot of former European Car Clinic in Ocala
Parking lot at 210 W. Silver Springs Boulevard, the former site of European Car Clinic

The lease would have seen the city manage the new space for the following 14 months at a cost of $2,500 per month, or $35,000 in total.

Director of Growth Management Tye Chighizola indicated that the business owner had approached city staff about managing the lot for him on a short-term lease. He indicated that staff was in support of the idea, citing the city’s loss of three parking lot leases since 2021.

During a discussion by the council, Kristen Dreyer, who represents district 4, spoke passionately against the lease, suggesting the city was committing to spending tens of thousands of dollars before addressing multiple concerns regarding its current parking offering downtown.

“I have been entrenched in our downtown parking since I’ve been in this seat. If we were doing what we should be doing, and I’m as guilty as anybody else because I could be pushing it from here, I would support this,” said Dreyer.

Dreyer cited confusion over the current parking situation in downtown Ocala, saying that visitors cannot tell which lots are available or which spaces are reserved due to confusing signage.

“People aren’t parking in our lots because they think they’re not allowed to, but technically, they are allowed to,” said Dreyer, suggesting the city needed to fix its “own problem” before proceeding with additional options.

The confusion extends to Parking Lot 13, which Dreyer says has a “visual barrier” in the guard stand that is currently positioned at the entrance to the lot. Even though the lot is free and open to the public, Dreyer suggested that many residents do not believe it is.

Instead of signing the new lease, Dreyer suggested the city look into improving signage at the Mount Moriah parking lot, indicating that people “don’t even know they can park there.”

Last year, city officials approved the purchase of the church property that sits along SW 3rd Avenue.

Further, Dreyer suggested that the signage at Parking Lot 9, which sits at the intersection of SW 2nd Avenue and Fort King Street, was confusing and that people weren’t parking there as a result.

She suggested that the lot, which is behind La Cuisine Restaurant, shows signs that it is reserved when it is actually not.

Dreyer remarked that $35,000 was an “insane” amount of money, and that the city was embarking on a “losing proposition” were it to sign the lease.

“We have to fix what we already have before we start spending more money,” said Dreyer.

After the discussion, the council voted unanimously against the measure.