Seaside to start charging for parking using 'courteous and knowledgeable attendant'

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

SEASIDE — In a move aimed at getting visitors to at least consider options other than driving into the iconic beachside community on two-lane Walton County Road 30A, the Seaside Community Development Corporation (SCDC) is implementing a paid parking program beginning Monday.

At 9 a.m. Monday, Seaside will begin charging for the 190 public parking spaces around Smolian Circle behind the northwest corner of the town's commercial district. For $15, visitors can park for as long as they want from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Several parking attendants will be stationed around Smolian Circle to take cash or credit card payments, according to Kerri Parker, Seaside's director of commercial operations.

Seaside on Monday will begin charging for the 190 public parking spaces around Smolian Circle behind the northwest corner of the town's commercial district.

There will be no parking fees charged for either the handicapped parking spaces or for the electric vehicle charging stations in town, Parker added.

On a related note, Parker said Tuesday that there are no immediate plans to reopen Central Square to traffic and parking. The square, which had offered free parking in the commercial district, was closed off some months ago as the community responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The SCDC chose this time to implement the paid parking on Smolian Circle because it is after the height of spring break season and in advance of Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer vacation season, Parker said. Getting the program in place now will allow time to work out any issues and put a workable system in place before the height of vacation season, she said.  

Seaside's commercial district, known informally as "downtown 30A," is lined with specialty shops, restaurants, a bookstore and other businesses. It is a popular spot for visitors, including many who are not staying in the town's vacation rental homes.

This map shows Smolian Circle, where Seaside will implement paid public parking, just outside the northwest corner of the iconic beachside town's commercial district. The circle has 190 spaces, which will be available for $15 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., regardless of how many hours a vehicle occupies a parking space. Seaside leadership also is working to let visitors know about other ways of getting into the popular visitor destination.

Seaside has considered implementing paid parking for a number of years, Parker said, but an ongoing and significant influx of visitors to the area, even outside the traditional vacation season, was among factors that prompted the town's leadership to start charging for parking now.

At the same time, though, town officials are promoting other ways to get into Seaside, a pioneering example of New Urbanism, a development style that favors streets and other features conducive to walking or bicycling.

In a recent announcement of the switch to paid parking along Smolian Circle, Seaside pointed visitors to the free shuttle service from a parking lot a few miles west on Walton County Road 283 near Grayton Beach. The multiple-shuttle service runs about every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, shuttle riders are required to wear masks, and there also are capacity limits. 

Parker also suggested Tuesday that visitors might choose to drive a low-speed vehicle (colloquially, a golf cart) into Seaside, where there are 30 parking spaces available for them.

Alternatively, she suggested, walking or bicycling into the town are options.

"It matters that we have so many options," she said. "We're really trying to teach people how to get to Seaside."

"Overall, we want our guest experience to be better," Parker added as she outlined the factors behind the decision to start charging for parking. The change also should be welcomed by business owners in that customers who choose to drive into the town will have parking available close to the commercial center, she added.

"It's very expensive to do free parking," Parker added, making the counterintuitive point by noting that offering free parking creates congestion as visitors search for a parking spot, and frustration when they can't find a space.

In announcing the upcoming switch to paid public parking, Jeremy Barnes, the asset management director for the Seaside Community Development Corporation, said in a prepared statement that “(a)fter several years of studying various paid parking methods, we chose a low-tech, personalized approach with a courteous and knowledgeable attendant that is more at home with the Seaside atmosphere that can provide guests a more personalized experience while parking.”