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Churches urge Tampa City Council to change new parking policy

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Posted at 6:18 AM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 18:03:57-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Three churches in downtown Tampa teamed up to make a call to action. They want City Council members to rethink the new city parking policy that went into effect on January 1.

ABC Action News first told you about these plans plus parking rate changes back in October. The City Council voted to pass the resolution in November.

Steve Michelini is advocating on behalf of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church, and St. Andrews Episcopal. He's a member of First Presbyterian and has his own business consulting firm. He also has experience working for city land use, zoning, and economic development.

Michelini says this started about two weeks ago with Sacred Heart church members.

"The meter maid started ticketing the parishioners that were going to church $35 a whack," he said. "The pastor had to interrupt their service and tell parishioners we're going to suspend service for the next 15 minutes."

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Michelini says at first, they tried working this out among church and city leaders, but wasn't a fan of the suggestions.

"One of them was to provide free parking up near the interstate [on Morgan and Scott]. And I said, 'Really? That's eight blocks away," Michelini said. "Are you going to be providing constant shuttle service to get people down to the different churches?"

"They told me the other one was they were going to dispatch the mayor's Youth Corps to go and explain to people how to pay for their parking," he said.

One pastor didn't like that suggestion because it would cause people to be distracted from services to pay for parking on their phone.

Joseph W. J. Robinson goes to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in downtown Tampa. He explains the hassle and headache the new parking policy has caused.

“I would have to stop in the middle of mass, run outside at 8a.m., plug my meter, come back, hopefully, make communion," said Robinson.

Michelini brought the issue to City Council Chairman Guido Maniscalco.

"I've talked to every council member, and there's not one council member who thought that this was a good idea," Michelini said. "You can't balance your parking budget on the backs of churches and children."

During Thursday's workshop, Maniscalco discussed the issue with city council. He explained the ordinance meant there wouldn't be the free parking time periods people have had in the past, especially downtown. On-street rates went up from $1.50 to $2.50 an hour as well.

Maniscalco says they've been flooded with emails from people who use the Riverwalk on Sundays or attend church and have been used to the free street parking.

"What I wanted to bring up was not completely repeal it, but allow at least a portion of the morning on Sundays for folks to get in morning exercise, attend church, whatever it is, and then have the parking fees go into effect after 1 or 2 p.m.," said Maniscalco.

After a discussion during the meeting, the council voted to ask staff to come back Thursday, February 4th to look at amending the ordinance.

“Amending it so we can have the discussion in finding a happy medium moving forward where we can accommodate some of the no-charge parking times," said Maniscalco.

Michelini stressed that it's not just the church's problem, but anyone who enjoys the downtown area.

"The best plans in the world are plans for people. And in this case, it looks like they made plans that were for the plan and not for the people that are involved," Michelini said.

Robinson says he's encouraged after the meeting that the council heard out community concerns.

“We’re not asking for every day. We’re not asking for the whole day. We’re just saying, 'Man, give us at least until 1 p.m.,” said Robinson.

ABC Action News obtained an email from Tampa's Mobility Department Director Vik Bhide. It outlined why these changes were made.

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Thursday's City Council meeting also addressed making a citywide uniform parking policy and reimagining city streets. The latter would include getting rid of more parking spaces plus adding pick up and drop off areas.