Festival organizers forced to pay for free parking

Organizers paying $5K-$7K to cover park-and-ride shuttle services

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The first festival of the year in St. Augustine has officially kicked off with a major change for organizers.

The city is now requiring organizers of downtown events to pay thousands of dollars for shuttle and parking services.

The Lions Seafood Festival will be held Friday through Sunday at Francis Field on Castillo Drive.

City officials said last year's event created some of the most congested traffic days of the year, prompting city leaders to decide that organizers of events hosted by the city now have to pay for the city to operate a shuttle and parking service.

The change will likely cost the organizer $5,000 to $7,000.

The parking garage directly across the street from Francis Field can hold 1,200 cars, but officials are expecting up to 25,000 visitors at the festival, and festivalgoers are encouraged to use the two free satellite parking lots to avoid extra congestion in the downtown area.

The shuttle will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday with pickup every 20 minutes at the St. Johns County Health Department off San Sebastian View and a gravel lot at 301 San Marco Ave.

MAP: Park and ride shuttle in St. Augustine

Lions Seafood Festival Chairman Dominic Mercurio said he hopes this year's event at Francis Field will be bigger and better than the 36 previous years.

“From college scholarships to food banks to citizens in need, the event last year cleared $226,000 in profits for the community,” Mercurio said.

Part of that helped with Hurricane Matthew relief, he said.

Mercurio is supportive of the parking and shuttles changes but said he has one concern: The services are for anyone to use this weekend, not just festivalgoers.

"We're not sure whether people understand that they are primarily for the festivalgoers and that the shuttles become too crowded for people doing other things, but since this is the first year, we're willing to be open-minded," Mercurio said.

St. Augustine mobility coordinator X Pellicer said city officials believe that the majority of people using the shuttle will be headed to the festival.

Some other ways in which the city encourages people to avoid bringing more traffic downtown:

  • Take a pedicab
  • Ride a bike
  • Carpool
  • Stay in a hotel for the weekend that’s within walking distance

The free parking and shuttle services will also be available for the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival next weekend and the Rhythm & Ribs Festival on the last weekend of the month.

The city will be collecting data and after the festival, leaders will meet with organizers to discuss making improvements.