Miami-Dade County

Will free parking win back customers in Zika-weary Wynwood?

A Miami agency will offer free parking to help get customers back to Wynwood.
A Miami agency will offer free parking to help get customers back to Wynwood.

With the fear of Zika sweeping the Wynwood neighborhood, a Miami government agency is trying to help bring back customers to an area where business has plummeted over the past 12 days.

The Miami Parking Authority will extend two hours of free parking to all visitors starting Wednesday through Aug. 31 to help combat news about the virus that has driven away hordes of visitors to what’s been one of Florida’s most vibrant entertainment districts.

Just days after state officials announced four people infected with Zika had likely contracted the virus from mosquitoes in the area, business began to plunge in the popular community north of downtown, with some restaurants reporting 60 percent to 90 percent declines in revenues.

The tax-funded Wynwood Business Improvement District is urging government authorities to make a recovery fund available to scores of art galleries, antique stores and eateries that have sustained losses since the area was singled out as the only active “Zika zone” the country.

“We come together in difficult times to support the communities where we do business,” said Art Noriega, CEO of the parking authority. The agency is also offering a $3 flat parking rate to motorists who attend the Wynwood Art Walk this weekend.

The park area: the railroad tracks on the east to Northwest Sixth Avenue on the west and from Northwest 20th Street on the south to Northwest 29th Street on the north.

Federal health officials on Aug. 1 advised pregnant women to avoid the neighborhood — marking the first time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against travel to any area within the continental United States. The one-square-mile area includes Wynwood, Midtown and the Design District.