When Theo Hollerbach opened his German restaurant in downtown Sanford in 2001, finding a place to park was never an issue.
In fact, the owner of the popular Hollerbach's Willow Tree Café would play soccer with employees during afternoons on 1st Street in front of his restaurant, with little chance of oncoming traffic.
Those games are no longer possible. The Willow Tree serves about 5,000 customers each week, and traffic to other restaurants and night spots have seen similar increases.
That extra traffic, coupled with at least $50 million in new construction on the horizon, are causing Sanford leaders to formulate plans to address parking, which could include building one parking garage on city land and possibly another in partnership with a private land owner.
Details about sizes, locations, timelines and funding are unknown, as senior city management has just begun gathering information. Deputy City Manager Tom George briefed Sanford commissioners last week about future parking concerns so they could begin identifying possible revenue sources.
George noted that 400 parking spots downtown would be eliminated as part of a $50 million mixed-use project the city is currently negotiating with Sanford Waterfront Partners LLC. While the development would include some parking, it would add 235 new residential units, as well as offices and restaurants.
The majority of that parking is on city-owned land used by employees at the Seminole County Civil Courthouse. That parking lot would not be eliminated immediately, as the Sanford Waterfront Partners' project would be completed in phases. However, George said it's important to begin making plans.
"We're in negotiations with Seminole County to partner on a parking structure," George told commissioners.
As of now, those discussions have centered on building a two-story garage on the existing Sanford City Hall parking lot. Part of the first floor might include offices for either city or county functions, or the space could be leased for retail. With the office space, George estimates the structure could accommodate 320 to 350 vehicles.
In addition to a garage on public property, George said he has reached out to private land owners in other parts of downtown, though he cautioned those talks are "very preliminary." Two projects just south of City Hall are expected to add several hundred new residents.
Developer Ron Semans told GrowthSpotter in August that he and partners intend to build 96 apartment units in 2017.
And Mark Nation, a prominent Central Florida attorney, purchased an entire city block and is creating plans for a mixed-use project on the property.
The city is not just focused on parking structures. Thirty new on-street parking spots have been added off the newly revived Sanford Avenue district. And Public Works Director Bilal Iftikhar is negotiating with private owners of surface parking lots to partner with the city. In exchange for allowing public parking after 5 p.m. and on weekends, the city is offering to rehab and maintain private parking lots.
Hollerbach recalls those soccer games in the street fondly – sort of.
"We hoped by kicking the ball someone would notice us. It was fun, but I like it better now," Hollerbach said. "Now there's so much traffic our guests have to wait before crossing the street to get to the restaurant."