■ STAFF REPORT
You may have noticed some subtle changes to the 5th Street parking lot by The Gasparilla Inn Beach Club.
Okay, well, they’re actually huge changes, but they are the same changes we have been reporting about for months, and they will add parking to the downtown area.
According to Betsy Clayton, communications director for Lee County, the project started on April 17 and is set to be completed at the end of May.
The project, funded by Lee County tourist development taxes (as opposed to general fund dollars), includes a boardwalk to provide beach access from the parking lot. The Lee County Department of Transportation reports that the boardwalk is expected to be completed today, April 21, but the lot and boardwalk will remain closed to the public until project completion.
Clayton said DOT crews will soon remove existing plants to make room for more parking spaces. They are also removing existing old concrete for the same purpose. A contractor for DOT will then come in and build a sidewalk and four handicapped parking spaces (in early May).
“After that work is done, our DOT crew will come back to do final grading on the shell material, install the wheel stops for the parking spaces and add minor landscaping,” Clayton said. “Currently an estimated 48 vehicles can park there. The goal is to increase it to 90 spaces. Until the project is complete, the site will remain closed.”
The Visitor & Convention Bureau and Tourist Development Council statement regarding the project said they are pleased to be able to use tourist tax funds – $200,000 – to make improvements to accommodate additional vehicles in an area in need of more public parking for access to a beautiful beach.