The vision of downtown Lakeland as an evening restaurant and nightlife destination is coming into focus as new venues announce big plans. But the vision brings a complication: With most of the eateries concentrated within a block of each other, how do you get customers quickly from their cars to their tables?
The restaurateurs think they have an answer: Band together to provide a shared valet parking service. A lot of details still need to be worked out, but they’re working with the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority to coordinate the effort.
“This will change everything. We’re thinking bigger picture,” city traffic operations chief Angelo Rao told the LDDA board this morning.
Four planned venues will add up to 1,000 people in a horseshoe-shaped area of Kentucky Avenue, Main Street and Tennessee Avenue where restaurants and lounges are concentrated:
- A barbecue restaurant that’s part of the Jacksonville-based Mojo’s chain is going into the Federal Building on Tennessee.
- Cafe Roti, known for its Indian and Pakistani food, is moving to a spot on Tennessee that once housed Tropical Smoothie.
- Lakeland Loft, a cigar and jazz bar, is expected to be ready to open in the next few months upstairs at the corner of Tennessee and Main.
- The building that once held Preservation Hall is being refurbished as Posto 9, a three-story Brazilian gastropub and event space.
Add to that a dozen or so existing restaurants and bars on Kentucky and Main and restaurants being recruited for other parts of downtown such as the NoBay development.
The result will be more cars than can fit within a few blocks during a busy evening. The city of Lakeland has several hundred spaces that are empty at night and is willing to share them, Rao said.
The owners of Fresco’s have discussed valet parking in the past, according to Julie Townsend, the LDDA’s executive director. Valet discussions restarted recently since Posto 9 owner Marco Franca made it part of his business model.
Representatives of some of downtown’s largest restaurants are considering sharing the expenses of a joint valet service. The service would be free to customers of businesses that participate, and costs would be apportioned based on the number of tickets that are validated by each business.
People patronizing non-participating businesses who want to use the valet service would be charged an as-yet-undetermined fee.
At least two shared valet stands would serve clusters of restaurants, Townsend said. One might be placed close to Posto 9 and Lakeland Lofts, while another might serve Fresco’s, Mojo and other nearby spots, she said.
The plan has a high-tech twist: Since attendants may have to go several blocks to retrieve cars, patrons or waiters could summon cars in advance using a text-message service or phone app. “When you cash out, your server can call for the car and validate your ticket,” Townsend told the LDDA board.
The LDDA board today authorized Townsend to further explore the issue and prepare a request for proposal to send to valet companies.
Under the current scenario, the LDDA would hold the contract with the valet company and charge participating restaurants and bars based on the number of customers who use the service.
Townsend was also asked to see how shared valet parking is working in cities such as Clearwater and Winter Park.