With the Hilton Garden Inn in Downtown Ocala now open, the City of Ocala is experiencing growing pains in terms of parking.
Since Nov. 6, the 107-room hotel has leased 120 parking spaces in the downtown parking garage, which houses a total of 402 parking spots.
Originally, the Hilton Garden Inn was entitled to 32 spaces on the ground floor, 70 on the second floor and 18 on the top floor. That changed, however, after the Ocala City Council unanimously passed a proposed amendment to reallocate the spaces during Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled meeting.
Growth Management Director Tye Chighizola proposed to the council that the hotel have 39 spaces on the ground floor, 41 on the second floor and 40 on the top floor, with all spaces reserved for the hotel located on the west side of the garage.
According to Chighizola, the proposal came after city officials received feedback from the garage’s security team, which expressed safety concerns with the current layout.
Currently, safety cones are used to block the parking spaces reserved for hotel guests, making it hard for members of the public to turn around and circulate through the garage.
With the passage of Tuesday’s proposal, the reserved spaces will be painted to indicate they are for hotel guests.
“Once it gets painted on the ground, the cones will go away so people would be able to circulate,” Chighizola explained to the council members. “That has been a problem the last couple of weeks, with the holidays, is people not being able to circulate because of the cones and everything.”
Councilman Matthew Wardell expressed concern about how the reserved spaces would appear to the public.
“These spots … it’s been a little bit of a shock to some members of the public and I’ve seen that in different places,” Wardell said during the meeting. “With this change, the only thing that visually, you know, when you come to the garage, the entire floor to the left is blocked off … I think visually, that might … that sets a message to the public that this isn’t for you.”
To remedy Wardell’s concerns, newly seated Council President Justin Grabelle suggested it might be time to reassess the use of parking meters downtown.
“Obviously I’ve been supportive of getting rid of those (parking meters) for some time,” Grabelle said. “But with those spots being taken up … I think it would show a lot of good will to the community to open those spots up and make them free to park.”
To the delight of Grabelle — and hopefully the public — bags have been placed over all of the downtown parking meters to indicate there is no charge to use them through Jan. 3, meaning all parking spaces downtown, including the garage’s 282 open spaces, currently are free to the public.