Destin’s Harbor District is a hotspot for entertainment, but finding a parking spot is a bit of a headache.
The city has four public parking lots, but not enough spaces to accommodate the growing number of visitors each year. There are approximately 300 spots available between the city’s three public parking lots. The Destin Library parking lot is also available after hours.
“It’s a challenge to say the least,” said Mayor Gary Jarvis.
The city’s parking woes are not a new issue. Jarvis said he believes it stems from not enough planning and rapid growth.
“This is a year-round destination,” he said. “I’ve lived here 40 years and times used to be hard. After tourist season, this place dried up. Getting people here is a good thing. Now, we have to come up with a (parking) plan that takes all of the stakeholders into consideration.”
On September 6, the City of Destin will hold a public meeting to collect citizen feedback on parking and other issues related to transportation around the boardwalk and harbor district, which stretches from the Marler Bridge to Main Street in Destin. The meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Last month, Destin City Council unanimously approved choosing the Pensacola-based Structured Parking Solutions as a partner to develop a parking garage, which the public will get a chance to comment on at Thursday’s meeting.
No matter what the long-term solution is, Jarvis said paid parking will be a part of it. Last summer, the City implemented a pay-to-park program. Visitors can download a free smart phone app that allows them to pay for their parking and as well as additional time. The cost is $1 for the first hour and $.50 for each additional hour. Money generated from the parking fees will go toward long-term parking projects, such as a garage and additional parking lots.
“Some feathers were ruffled (about paid parking),” Jarvis admitted. “But it’s a way to share the cost burden. Paid parking is here to stay and people will eventually get used to it.”
The problem isn’t just limited to Destin’s Harbor District. In South Walton, officials are also looking to come up with parking solutions for visitors who want to visit the 16 unique beach communities.
“Along the 30A Scenic Highway, we have congestion created by the seven-day visitors and the day visitors,” said Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for Walton County. “30A is more linear and compact (compared to Destin).”
One solution Walton County is looking at are centralized parking areas off of County Road 30A, which could accommodate about 250 cars. A public shuttle service will then take visitors to different attractions, Kellenberger said.
“We’re still sitting around and kicking ideas,” he added. “In the south, people aren’t used to public transportation. Everybody wants to have their car with them.”
Like Jarvis, Kellenberger said any parking changes will likely include a pay-to-park system.
“You don’t go anywhere without paying to park,” he said. “Destin isn’t the little sleepy fishing village it was 30-40 years ago. South Walton is not what it was in the 80s. We’ve got to pick up our game.”