As South Floridians scramble to protect their belongings before Hurricane Irma makes landfall, garage spaces to protect vehicles from the storm’s high winds and water are in demand. But two of the city’s garages at Marlins Park — built with public funds — will remain empty and closed to the public.
The four parking structures, which are owned and operated by a city agency and not the sports team, will not admit cars belonging to Marlins employees or the public during the storm. Two of the garages will shelter emergency vehicles for various jurisdictions, including the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County and Key Biscayne. The other two will not house any vehicles.
Jon Alvarez, a Marlins spokesman, directed questions about the parking policy to the Miami Parking Authority, which he said operates the garages when they are not in use for games or other events.
The decision not to make the Marlins garages available was jointly made by the city of Miami and the Miami Parking Authority, said Art Noriega, the authority’s CEO.
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A parking authority program lets city residents park one vehicle per household in municipal garages during hurricane season and other natural disasters, provided they sign up for the free program online ahead of time. The Marlins garages are not part of the arrangement, Noriega said. The garages that are — the College Station garage and James L. Knight Center garage — will be open to people who signed up for the program in advance.
About 400 to 500 people usually sign up for the program. This time, ahead of Hurricane Irma, that number was about double.
“We didn’t even fill that to capacity, to be honest with you,” he said, adding that the two garages together have about 2,400 spaces. But, he said, the parking authority had to set a deadline so that it could manage the logistics of allowing cars in after a hurricane watch was issued and before a hurricane warning sets in.
“At this point opening those [ballpark] garages is almost impossible because we just don’t have the manpower,” Noriega added. “We have to get everybody in and get the garages shut down.”
But Horacio Stuart Aguirre, chairman of the Miami River Commission, said that the fact the parking structures were built with city of Miami funds should allow residents to use the empty parking structures.
“I would think that if they had told people in this part of the county that they were going to be opening those garages that they would have been very well subscribed,” Aguirre said. “We the people own … those garages. They ought to be opened up during emergencies to accommodate the people.”
Aguirre said he knew nearly a dozen residents who would have wanted to use the nearby spaces if the city had decided to make them available, especially considering the flood risk from the Miami River. Some, he said, have second cars that will be at risk of damage.
“It’s inexcusable that they will not allow people to park during a hurricane,” he said. “If you’re living within five or six blocks of the Miami River, would you want your car to get inundated with grimy water? Not when there are empty parking garages.”