Port Authority: We'll finish parking review by Sept. 4

CINCINNATI - The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority told the city of Cincinnati Friday that it will complete its 75-day review of a parking lease by September 4, as required in a contract signed by both parties June 21.

"The two remaining items are the engineering study and finalizing the terms of the asset management an operating agreements," said the letter to City Manager Milton Dohoney from Otto Budig, the port authority's chairman, and Laura Brunner, president and CEO.

The engineering review involves a structural analysis of city-owned parking garages. The asset management and operating agreements will involve financial analysis conducted by local business leaders on the fiscal prudence of the parking transaction and the fairness of all contracts that will be used to manage city-owned garages and parking meters.

"The port is an independent board appointed by the city and county," said Port Authority Vice Chairwoman Lynn Marmer, a Kroger Co. vice president. "We have an obligation and a duty to make sure that we conduct an independent review of the lease and all the related transactions."

Marmer is the Port Authority board member who called the parking lease "a gigantic distraction" in email conversations obtained by WCPO Digital this week. But Marmer said the Port Authority is committed to conducting the due diligence it promised when it signed the parking lease June 21.

"Our goal is to finish this up in early September and we can lay out the whole thing for everyone," she said.

Elements of the controversial deal came under fire again this week, when WCPO Digital revealed that a city-paid parking consultant concluded management fees and operating expenses tied to the lease are excessive. The report by Walker Consulting was delivered to the city before the lease was signed but wasn't made public until this week.

It was also disclosed this week that Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls  is leading an effort to give the Port Authority $27 million of the $92 million upfront payment the city of Cincinnati would get from a controversial parking deal.  Neither Qualls nor any city staffer mentioned sharing any of the city's upfront payment to City Council before it voted on the deal in March. But under the latest plan being floated, the Port Authority would get a full one-third of the initial revenues.

Marmer said the Port Authority is taking input on the parking transaction from all sources, including city consultant reports, media accounts, blog items, unsolicited emails and conversations with community leaders.

"We've reached out to businesses and individuals in the community and asked them to help us do a review," she said. She declined to name the individuals involved in the review, describing them as "people who are on Wall Street all the time and are experts."

Once the review is complete, Marmer said the Port Authority will lay out its findings. She hopes the process will ease concerns about whether the deal is fiscally prudent and help city leaders decide whether to use parking lease proceeds on Port Authority projects.

"When you look at successful development authorities around the country, they all have a way to fund their projects," Marmer said. "There's been some attempt at linking the parking deal to a revenue stream for the port. That may or may not come to be. It's a decision that city council makes."

Cincinnati Mayoral candidate John Cranley isn't comforted by plans for a new financial review of the parking lease. He renewed his call for the deal to be terminated.

"I have no doubt that the port has assembled a great team to review this deal, but the selling off of a revenue stream is something that needs to be looked at anew," Cranley said. "In light of the bond rating down grade (by Moody's Investors Service July 145) , selling off revenue streams that are need to shore up the structurally unbalanced budget, that needs to be the priority."

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