Jenell Walton
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Parking lease: Port Authority agrees to not change hours at neighborhood meters

Business owner: 'It's a joke'

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CINCINNATI - Hoping to win more support for a controversial parking lease, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority has decided to leave enforcement hours at meters in neighborhoods unchanged.

Port Authority officials met privately Wednesday with City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

During the meeting, the Port proposed keeping meter enforcement the same in neighborhood business districts after the lease takes effect.

That means enforcement would continue to end at most neighborhood meters at 6 p.m., instead of the planned expansion to 9 p.m.

By keeping the hours the same, the $92 million upfront payment that the city expected to receive will be reduced.

As a result, the city will lose about $3.7 million in revenue, according to modeling information provided by Guggenheim Partners, a New York-based investment bank that is brokering the deal.

Dohoney and Qualls liked the idea, allowing the Port Authority to move ahead in negotiations with private contractors who would oversee the daily operations of the meters, along with city-owned parking lots and garages.

“The city manager and vice mayor have approved these recommendations,” said Gail Paul, a Port Authority spokeswoman.

“This is an informal approval, but it helps direct the Port Authority activities as they relate to sizing the bonds because it decreases revenue,” Paul added. “Later, after a bond issuance and the formation of the advisory committee, the city manager, as a member of the advisory committee, will have to formally approve the changes in his official capacity.”

Paul described the negotiations as “substantially completed.” Port Authority officials will hold a press conference Aug. 23 to discuss the details.

A few lease details – like an engineering structural analysis of improvements needed to city parking garages – probably won’t be completed by the Sept. 4 deadline, Paul said.

The lease changes come after the Port Authority held several tumultuous meetings with neighborhood business owners in recent weeks. Many were upset about the proposed extension, stating it would drive away customers, especially at bars and restaurants.

“It’s an aggregate kind of recommendation,” Paul said. “Every neighborhood is different.

“But it does come from listening to concerns from the business districts,” she added. “They have to compete with suburban businesses that have ample, free parking.”

Some business owners were not impressed with the change.

“It’s a joke,” said Mark Rogers, owner of the 20th Century Theater and Habits Café in Oakley. “The only reason they’re doing this is to distract from the real reason they’re pushing this deal.

“What is so fraudulent about these things is it can be changed at anytime later if they want to,” he said.

Advisory Board Can Make Future Changes To Rates and Hours

Once the lease is enacted, an advisory committee would be created to make recommendations on rates and hours of operation.

The advisory committee would be composed of five members. The Port Authority’s board of directors would appoint four members, and the city manager would appoint one member.

That committee would need a majority vote for issues involving day-to-day operations, and a unanimous vote for issues involving raising rates or changing hours beyond what is included in the lease.

Even with the unanimous vote, any recommended rate increase must still go to the city manager for approval and -- if the manager OKs it -- then the Port Authority board would vote on it.

The oversight structure is designed to keep an element of public control over the city’s parking system.

Lease supporters concede it could theoretically allow parking rates to increase over rate hikes above the maximum cap in the lease, which is either 3 percent annually or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher.

Rogers noted that 19,893 residents signed petitions seeking to have a voter referendum on the parking lease, but were blocked by a court decision.

Although City Council approved the lease in a 5-4 vote in March, just 15 days after the deal was presented to the group, a council majority now opposes the lease. Still, a procedural maneuver by Mayor Mark Mallory is preventing another vote.

“There is no support in the business community for this whatsoever,” Rogers said. “They are trying to change the argument by saying they are going to make this crap deal better. It’s still crap.”

Meter Enforcement In Downtown and OTR Expanded

Other recent changes to the lease include defining the “downtown zone,” which includes the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine. This zone is where meter enforcement still will be expanded to 9 p.m.

South of Central Parkway, the zone will extend from Elm Street to Sycamore Street in the east-west direction; and extend south to Mehring Way.

North of Central Parkway, the zone will extend from Elm Street to Walnut Street in the east-west direction; and extend north to Liberty Street.

The Port Authority is considering the possibility of having a 10-minute free option on all downtown meters. The option wouldn’t be available to motorists who planned on staying longer than 10 minutes.

All meters would also have a two-hour maximum stay before 5 p.m. After 5 p.m., meters will be available for the remainder of the enforcement hours, up to 9 p.m.

Allowing the meters to be used longer after 5 p.m. is a concession to the Cincinnati Reds. The team’s owners told the Port Authority that many fans like the on-street parking option when attending games, rather than paying higher rates in garages or lots.

Under the deal, the city’s parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while its garages and lots would be leased for 50 years.

In return, the city was slated to get a $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million.

The Port Authority would issue bond debt to pay for improvements and technological upgrades to the parking facilities. During the lease, it would hire private contractors to oversee daily management.

Xerox Corp. would manage the meters, while Denison Parking would manage the garages and lots.

City officials plan to use the money to quicken the pace of some development projects, as well as possibly help close an unfunded liability in the city’s pension fund.

The Port Authority would get annual management fees of about $300,000. Also, Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner has asked City Council for $27 million of the upfront money.

The Port Authority is negotiating contract details with private contractors, and will present City Council with the final deal by Sept. 4.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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