A transformation is under way at the Marler Street parking lot.
"We want to get as much (work) done before the kids come to town," Community Redevelopment Agency Project Manager David Campbell told The Log Wednesday.
With the completion of the harbor boardwalk in 2011, the next step for the city was to increase the amount of parking in the harbor district to accommodate for the influx of visitors to the harbor.
Crews from Gulf Coast Utility Contractors, LLC, have been busy removing gravel, which will be reused to save money, pouring concrete to form sidewalks and demolishing and removing asphalt since Jan. 2 at the parking lot which fronts U.S. Hwy. 98 at the Marler Street intersection.
Improvements to the parking lot include paving, striping, lighting, landscaping and irrigation improvements, and pedestrian improvements. Before the project began, the lot was filled with gravel and rubber wheel stops had been installed to act as a "surface" parking lot until improvements could be made.
Gulf Power will be installing lighting at the parking lot, Campbell said.
"We want folks to be able to enjoy the boardwalk at night as well, so the lighting will help them feel safer," he added.
Campbell said the Marler Street parking lot should help to alleviate some of the parking congestion once it's completed, by adding 147 parking spaces, which includes six handicapped spaces. Improvements were also made to the city's parking lot on Zerbe Street.
As part of the city's easement agreement with property owners to build the boardwalk, it agreed to address parking concerns in the harbor district by 2014.
While the interim improvements are beneficial, Councilman Larry Williges said it's not the final solution.
"It's a step in the right direction, but it's not the overall answer," he said. "The parking garage is needed."
Former councilman and current School Board Member Dewey Destin told The Log that his main concern with the improvements to the Marler lot is much like other harbor business owners — pedestrian safety.
"It's a critical issue," he said. "They will not use the parking lot if they can't get safely across the road — it's very dangerous."
Destin said the city performed a study about 10 years ago when he was on the dais that showed a deficiency of about 1,200 parking spaces in the harbor district. The addition of the Marler parking lot has helped that, but it's not the final solution.
"The plan was to go up to multi-level," he said.
Campbell told The Log that while a parking garage is not in the city's plans right now due to tight finances, it might be an option down the road.
"I think that's where we are eventually going," he said.
As they address the parking issues, Williges said the city also has to look at how they are going to get pedestrians safely across Hwy. 98.
"There has to be a traffic light down there," he said. "I think a full traffic control signal is the answer."
Campbell said the city is currently working to address the pedestrian issues with officials from the Florida Department of Transportation. He said the next step would be to conduct a Warrant Study, which would determine what type, if any, pedestrian crossing devices were needed.
The contract with Gulf Coast Utility Contractors for the Marler Street parking lot is for $399,165.
Looking at the overall project, Campbell said the work should be done with no major problems.
"The only challenge we are going to have is when we do the work on the Highway 98 right of way," he said. "Some lane closures can be expected.
The city will be installing a "pull in" area and a transit stop facility on the front side of the property, which works in conjunction with the city's mulitmodal transportation plans.
In the coming weeks, crews will be installing the stormwater sewer and working on the project's curbing, Campbell said.
Work on the parking lot is expected to wrap up April 2.
"We definitely want to try and get it done before the heavy traffic gets here," Campbell said.