DESTIN — In response to HarborWalk Village's new $10 parking fee, some surrounding businesses are either validating parking fees or offering discounts hoping to keep local business alive.
Over this weekend alone, Harry T's Lighthouse owner Dan Empson said he has been presented with 40 to 50 parking tickets each day. Empson said he began offering 10 percent off the tab for customers who bring in their parking receipt because he doesn't want locals or visitors to have to pay to park.
"I'm not even sure what to say about the new charge," Empson said. "It's too fresh of a wound. I just want to make people happy when they come to Harry T's. I just knew I had to do this for our guests."
Without public notice, HarborWalk Village began charging a flat $10 parking fee on Friday. Paul van Leeuwen, chief operating officer for HarborWalk Hospitality, told the Daily News last week the change from free to $10 parking was made to reduce frustration and provide an improved guest experience.
Charter Boat Special K, also located on HarborWalk, posted on its Facebook page Saturday that they too will pay for their customers' parking.
Amy Bass, co-owner of the business, said she has already called every booked customer for the entire year to let them know the charter company will pick up the tab.
"Our customers are paying anywhere from $800 to $2,400 to come fishing with us," Bass said. "We didn't want them to pay an unexpected fee. We're getting positive feedback from customers because we are willing to pay it. Over time, though, I think it's going to add up."
Bass said HarborWalk Village isn't the only business to start charging customers to park.
"The city is charging for parking, and so are (other) restaurants," Bass said. "This is a harbor district thing, not just HarborWalk."
Bass said she's already noticed the parking lots at HarborWalk are emptier because of the new charge. She believes the empty spaces are from individuals who just go to HarborWalk to sightsee.
AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar also charges $10 for parking. AJ's employee Shelby Schindler said she doesn't see an issue with HarborWalk charging to park, too.
"I mean, because everywhere else has been charging $10 to park, it hasn't been much of a shock," Schindler said. "This season has been a lot busier, so the lot fills up quicker."
The change has had a ripple effect for some nearby businesses, as well.
Kevin Lephart, co-owner of Dewey Destin's Harborside, said his business now has to have one of his employees monitor the parking lot to keep non-customers out of the spaces.
"It hasn't been a whole lot of people trying to park here," Lephart said. "We actually find it to be more the employees of other places at HarborWalk trying to park."
Lephart said although it's up to HarborWalk Village whether they choose to charge for parking, he believes businesses will suffer under the new fee.
The 650 employees who work at HarborWalk, van Leeuwen said, are now strongly encouraged to park at one of the nearby city lots on the north side of U.S. 98.
A free shuttle is provided for those employees as well as visitors.