The city of Tampa is adding more freight parking in Ybor City, including three spots near the bar and venue Crowbar, after complaints about new parking fees.
Crowbar owner Tom DeGeorge has been pushing back on the new rates since the city introduced metered parking in the district last month.
DeGeorge’s venue has hosted thousands of concerts since opening in 2006. Everyone from up-and-coming local bands to stadium headliners like Kenny Chesney (who played a surprise show there last week) has graced his stage. During the COVID-19 pandemic, DeGeorge became an advocate for Florida’s independent venues. He heads the Florida team for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and helped the organization lobby for the successful passage of the Save our Stages bill.
Before metered parking in Ybor, DeGeorge would reserve parking spots for vans with trailers and tour buses. He averages about four spots per show at about $20. Through his work with NIVA, he’s found some cities that don’t charge or have special arrangements with venues. But he didn’t mind paying.
Until they brought the meters in.
“They said the new rate is going to be reflective of what we’re charging people for the spot,” DeGeorge said. “I was willing to pay the five bucks, but I could’ve been saying, ‘Why am I paying anything at all’ this whole time.”
While the meters went into effect in March, the city gave businesses until May to pay new rates. Under the new pricing structure, DeGeorge’s annual parking costs were to skyrocket from around $6,000 every year to around $18,000. It was a potentially devastating blow to a venue recovering from a million-dollar loss during COVID-19 and still trying to find its new footing.
“I’m parking tour buses with trailers or vans with trailers that I must provide via contract to these artists. Now that they’re charging for parking, the hundreds of cars that come in every month because of the service I’m providing all of those people are paying the city for parking. The fact that they want to charge me on top of what they’re paying is ludicrous and it’s disrespectful. It’s disingenuous and makes me feel underappreciated. It’s flat out wrong.”
DeGeorge said that amounts to double dipping because the city is making money off the venue and the people his business brings into the area.
But DeGeorge made some noise and got the city’s attention.
“We were able to kind of find a creative solution,” said Vik Bhide, mobility director for Tampa. “Our effort always is how does this benefit everyone given that our primary purpose is public purpose.”
Bhide said they were able to look at the area and some of the needs and found spots throughout Ybor where more load/unload spots can be designated. Three are near Crowbar, allowing DeGeorge to keep the $5 rate for three of the four spots he usually reserves. Bhide said parking adjustments are always fluid and said the city will keep working with businesses to address parking and mobility needs.
But DeGeorge said was another avoidable bungle on the city’s part. DeGeorge was also a vocal opponent of a controversial noise ordinance the city passed and repealed within a matter of weeks. DeGeorge said it might be time for Tampa to hire a Night Mayor. And he’s up for the job. The city has neighborhood advisory boards, but DeGeorge said the city needs more.
“I think it would be a great thing to implement. It’s becoming common in all major cities. Many of us within NIVA that did all that work to help save our venues have been asked by our cities what we can do to help locally. And that’s what I want. I want to help,” DeGeorge said.
“I’ve been working in this industry for 30 years. I’ve spent hours and hours at those meetings and a lot of those people on those boards don’t understand it either. I don’t have enough time anymore to sit there and work through educating people on what they need.”
Night Mayors, as they are unofficially called, are hired to focus on and manage issues that arise after dark, particularly with nightlife and entertainment. Washington’s Night Mayor is actually the director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture. New York and Atlanta also have Night Mayor roles.
The concept of a “Night Mayor” was born in Germany but got its name in the Netherlands (Nachtburgemeester) and has spread throughout the U.S. and the world. A 2019 Harvard study found nearly 50 cities hired Night Mayors or nighttime advocates. Night Mayors don’t typically have enforcement or regulatory powers, but serve as bridge builders and liaisons between nightlife and the government.
“I love my community and I love Ybor city. I think what the city needs to realize is that a healthy community is built on love, sacrifice, cooperation, commitment and a mutual respect for each other. Not who has the most money. We have that in Ybor City,” DeGeorge said.