Parking near bridge OK - for now

A group of walkers cross the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Walkers and runners on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge will be allowed to continue parking on Patriots Point Boulevard after all.

Town Administrator Mac Burdette said Wednesday that a police department recommendation to ban the roadside parking will not be brought to Town Council for a vote.

Burdette made his comments after council voted 6-3 to establish a 50-cents-per-hour parking fee at the new $14 million Memorial Waterfront Park scheduled to open in July.

The road shoulders on both sides of Patriots Point Boulevard near Coleman Boulevard are a popular parking area for bridge runners and walkers. Police have raised safety concerns such as drivers opening car doors dangerously close to passing traffic.

The Omar Shrine Temple has complained that people who park on the roadside obstruct the view of those pulling out of its parking lot.

Police studied the issue last fall and concluded that it was best to eliminate all roadside parking there except during special events. Police said that bridge walkers and runners could park, instead, at athletic fields on the boulevard about 150 yards away.

"Right now, council has not decided what to do with that," Councilman Gary Santos said in an interview. "Once the park gets built we may look at that."

In the discussion about the parking fee, Deputy Town Administrator Eric DeMoura told council that $1 per hour parking at Memorial Waterfront Park should generate $308,577 in net revenue, which is the approximate annual operating budget for the park.

Allowing free parking would mean paying the park's operating budget out of the town's $7.9 million savings account, officials said.

"I think we almost have to charge for parking. We can't continue taking it out of the fund balance," Councilman Billy Swails said.

It was not clear Wednesday how the loss in park operating revenue created by cutting the hourly parking fee from $1 to 50 cents would be made up. Town residents will be eligible for a $20 annual parking permit.

Council members Swails, Kruger Smith, Nick Collins, Paul Gawrych, Thomasena Stokes-Marshall and Mayor Harry Hallman voted for the parking fee. Council members Santos, Joe Bustos and Ken Glasson voted against it.

The park will have 235 paid parking spaces. A kiosk system like one used on the Isle of Palms will be used to collect the money from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The county's Palmetto Islands County Park charges $1 per person for all-day admission.

Hobcaw Point resident Harry Shaw urged the council to not price the park out of the budget of low-income residents. "We've got extremely wealthy folks and otherwise," Shaw said.

Smith said that the parking fee could be revisited in a year.

The 14-acre park will be next to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. It will include a Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Center, a 6,200 square-foot visitors center, a war memorial and a 1,250-foot long pier.