NAPLES, Fla - Naples City leaders are causing controversy as they try and solve parking problems along 5th Avenue. They say employees are taking up too many spaces and they want them to park somewhere else.
City leaders are still considering buying a parking lot of 4th Ave S and 4th Street S for $2.7 million and then building a $9 million parking garage, but if that happens, it won't be for years.
In the short term, they want employees of area businesses to park elsewhere so customers can have the spots.
On a rainy day in June, parking along 5th Avenue is a non-issue, but in season it's a another story. "There's definitely a parking issue," says Paula Powell, owner of Citrus Seafood on 5th Avenue South.
Naples City leaders say there are 1,400 employees who work along 5th Avenue and if they could just open up 500 spots they could solve the parking problem without having to build a garage.
Visitor Gregg Taormina says, "the customer should have access, close access to buildings and be able to have the ease of shopping rather than the inconvenience of shopping."
Workers say they already park off the main drag, but city leaders argue those 500 spots would open up if employees moved entirely out of the business district. They say no way.
"If I work here, I should be able to park here," says one employee.
Powell adds, "I don't think that's the answer and I don't think that's the reason why we don't have enough parking."
Wednesday city leaders discussed having businesses rent a church parking lot blocks away or having owners pay to shuttle their workers.
"They're not going to be happy and it's going to create more problems between employees and employer and even the customers because they won't be happy, I don't think that's the solution," says Milos Simovic, owner of Osteria.
But city leaders and paying customers say if it will alleviate the traffic, they're all for it. "Why not," asks Gregg Taormina. "They're working, they're not spending money. You want the consumer to spend money, that keeps the businesses going. If the consumer isn't spending money, they're closing shop."
City leaders are hoping the businesses will take initiative to fix the problem themselves. If not, they discussed changing the ordinance to ensure employees don't park there.