OUR POSITION: Oh, the high price of fame and glory.
It’s a point of pride in Sarasota County that public beach parking is free.
Take that, Charlotte County! Take that, Lee, Collier and Pinellas!
In Charlotte, note, you’ve got to pay to park at the public beach lots and boat ramps: a whopping 75 cents an hour. (Red tide or no).
The reality, unfortunately, is that Charlotte probably needs to charge. That’s because poor-relation Charlotte just doesn’t have the huge property tax base or the tourist development tax income of its rich northern neighbor. In Charlotte, income from boat ramp parking is needed for capital improvements. Beach and park revenues go into the general fund.
Note also that Charlotte has few beaches. The county just doesn’t come close to beach-rich Sarasota, whose beach lots dot the sandy coast from Manasota Key to Venice, Casey Key, Siesta Key, Lido Key and Longboat Key.
Many beautiful beaches. They are a pleasure, and they are a sure-fire draw.
Which gets back to the point of pride. Also the point of sale.
Sarasota County freely pitches its parking-fee-less beaches to visitors. It’s in large bold letters on the county’s calling card: BEACHES. FREE.
And sometimes — in one instance, at least — it works only too well.
That instance is Siesta Beach on Siesta Key.
Siesta Beach is the big diamond of our Gulf Coast tiara. It was named the “#1 Beach in America” by Dr. Beach (Professor Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University) in both 2015 and 2017. The popular website TripAdvisor also named it the nation’s top beach those two years.
Accolades! Praise for a shallow bowl of Caribbean-blue water and a long, broad beach with fine sand so white it stays cool on the hottest summer day.
And, of course: Crowds, crowds, crowds.
Siesta Beach was busy before the national awards, but now it is busy, busy, busy.
On a nice day in season the parking lot can fill up by noon. Get there extra early on the weekend if you hope to get a spot.
Siesta is so close to a large population center, so highly publicized and so popular it is often overwhelmed. Traffic on Siesta Key (for Siesta Beach and the southern key’s Turtle Beach) is ridiculous.
And, so, Sarasota County is considering options to relieve the situation. One is to charge for parking.
This is not the first time Sarasota officials have considered paid beach parking. We recall discussions about parking fees at all county beaches in the mid-2000s.
That idea hit the water like a 300-pound cannonball. Boom! Then nothing.
But this is different. It involves one extremely popular and super-hyped beach. And maybe this time, something has to be done to limit the crowd. Not all Sarasota beaches — although they’re also getting more crowded — but this one beach.
County commissioners dipped their toes in the discussion in 2017, and they’ll dive back in during a special workshop next month. Other options include a toll at Siesta Key’s bridges, expansion of the trolley line and establishment of mainland parking and construction of a parking garage. The trolley system might be supported by beach parking fees, we suppose. Or some other combination.
It does seem like something different needs to be done in this spot. Nowhere else, of course. Just in case that needs to be said ...