The city of Destin on Monday began its new pay-to-park program on its Marler Street public parking lot. Parking in one of the 146 parking spaces in the Marler Street parking lot now cost motorists $1 for the first hour and 50 cents for each additional hour. Funds collected through the pilot program, which is planned to run through the summer season, will be used for future parking improvements for the city.

Destin will earmark the money collected from the Marler Street parking lot to pay for more parking projects, including a possible two- or three-story parking deck at the Zerbe Street or Marler Street lots. If the pilot program does well, city staff will go back to the City Council to propose expanding the paid parking to include other city lots, including lots in Crystal Beach and on restaurant row.

Parking in Destin, particularly during the summer months, can be pretty dreadful. We support the city in its initiative to raise money for parking improvements. We would even support the city if it decided to build a parking garage and then recoup those cost by charging to park there. However, we can't support this change. Charging people to park at one of the very few public places to park in the Harbor District that's not associated with a business is not the best solution.

The Marler Street parking lot is a relatively new parking lot for the city, built in the last five years. CRA funds were used to help purchase the land for and construct the Marler Street parking lot. It was pitched to the public with the expectation that it would be a free parking lot. Changing now is not in the best interest of the community.

Charging people to park at the Marler Street parking lot will just encourage people to try to first park for free at the Destin Community Center, HarborWalk Village, Brotula's Seafood House & Steamer or at one of the other businesses along the Destin harbor filling up spaces their customers should be using. Or even encourage people to park illegal along side roads.

There are other options available to the city besides charging people to park at the only public lot in the harbor. The U.S. Department of Transportation has grants available for parking improvements. CRA funds could be used again to help fund additional parking improvements, whether that's purchasing property for a new parking lot or building a parking garage.

In The Log's first story about paid parking lots that ran on April 12, Destin's Development Manager Steve Schmidt told reporter Annie Blanks “This is going to be a pilot program to see if the public is going to embrace paid parking.” Our question is, who would "embrace" being charged for something that has been free since its existence.

We hope this is a change that the community doesn't embrace and that the city will instead explore other options to fix its parking woes.