On Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. announced what he called a “public-public partnership” that would give control of Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to fund more than $110 million in economic development and help balance the city’s budget for the next two years.
The plan, which the city is calling the Parking Lease and Modernization Plan, would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority, which would then be in charge of operating and managing the city’s public parking meters for 30 years and garages for 50 years. In return, the Port Authority would issue bonds to make a $92 million upfront payment and then pay annual installments estimated at $3 million — although the city says the installments are expected to grow over time. With the money, the city would take up multiple development projects around the city, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store.
The plan, which requires City Council approval, would use $12 million and leverage $82 million to fund new development at Fourth and Race streets. JDL Warm, a local construction company, would help convert Tower Place Mall, which is now owned by the city, to parking and retail space. Flaherty and Collins, an Indianapolis-based construction company with previous experience in mixed-use development, would help replace Pogue’s Garage with a 30-story tower that would house a 1,500-square-foot grocery store, 1,000 parking spaces and 300 luxury apartments.
Jim Crossin, vice president of development at Flaherty and Collins, says the grocery store could revitalize downtown development: “The single best amenity for downtown residential living is a good, urban grocery store. Once we provide that, other developers will have the confidence to build more downtown apartments.”
Flaherty and Collins is partnering with an independent developer to build the grocery store, which provides the company with the flexibility necessary to meet the specific needs of locals, according to Crossin. He says the facility would be a “full-scale grocery store” that would provide all the necessary options, from prepackaged foods to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.
The tower would also include upper-scale apartments, which Crossin says would be targeted to young professionals. The rest of the tower’s development would be dedicated to parking, with 600 spaces saved for the public and the rest reserved for apartments and the grocery store.
Beyond Fourth and Race streets, the parking plan would fund the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail, add $4 million to the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park and help balance deficits slated for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years with $25.8 million and $20.9 million, respectively.
When the semi-privatization plan was first announced in October, many local residents and officials voiced concerns that privatization, whether full or partial, would cause parking rates to skyrocket, but city officials claim the plan specifically prevents that from happening.
Under the initial plan, downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour and neighborhood rates would be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter rates would be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
But the city would be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that would include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, would allow the city to raise and lower rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.
The city says any rate increases, including the initial hike for neighborhoods, would come after technological improvements are made to parking meters. The new meters would allow users to pay with a smartphone, which would enable remote and cashless payments. When he announced the plan, Dohoney emphasized the city would get to keep the upgrades after the 30-year lease expires.
The plan would expand hours to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods, but private operators would not be allowed to make further changes. Select parking meters would also retain 10 free minutes, and Sundays and holidays would remain free as well.
Fines would also go up with the plan. In the first year, basic parking meter violations would be bumped up to $45, up from the current $35. In the fourth year, fines would rise to $60. Afterward, fines would increase by 3 percent or the rate of inflation every year, eventually capping at $100.
Still, the city insists enforcement would not be more aggressive under the plan. Private operators would get flat fees from the deal, which the city says will eliminate any financial incentive to issue more parking tickets. If a private operator does fail to meet standards laid out by the city, the plan’s safeguards would make it possible to replace them.
The Port Authority would partner with four private companies for the plan: AEW Capital Management, a Boston-based capital management company, would manage assets; Xerox, a Connecticut-based printing and parking services company, would handle parking operations, enforcement and on-street spaces; Denison Parking, an Indianapolis-based parking company, would operate off-street spaces and manage facilities and equipment; and Guggenheim, a Wall Street financial firm, would act as the underwriter and capital provider.
After Dohoney’s presentation to City Council, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor, praised the city manager’s office for its work on the plan and said critics had run a misleading campaign against the proposal. In contrast, John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor, says expanded operating hours and higher parking rates would hurt businesses. ©
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