Why I said Yes...
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
...to a reasonable request from an unpopular developer.
We can always build more parking—or, we can if we can figure out how to pay for it. The current parking garage was designed to allow for two additional floors (adding nearly 200 additional parking spaces) if we can find the $3.95m required to build it (source). So when someone with money comes to the city and says he'd like to pay market rates for parking spaces to use mostly at night (when the parking garage is mostly empty—see the photo above), saying "yes" probably makes sense. It provides funding to build more parking for daytime use.
I stand accused (by one of my City Commission opponents) of having voted on the Parking Commission to “give” parking away for a developer’s private gain at the expense of the community. This is a petty smear. Let's be clear: I'm not friends with any big-shot developers. I am friends with a lot of folks here who are one rent-hike away from being priced out, and a lot of others who have been here longer that are concerned about the encroachment of big downtown buildings into the adjoining neighborhoods.
Back to parking. This was the request: the holder of existing monthly leases requested to extend the term of these leases to 25 years. The request was made in order to satisfy our parking minimum requirements for the creation of a new hotel downtown. I voted in favor of the request because I believe our parking garage is underutilized (especially at night), and I'm keen to see the Parking Division develop funding sources to build more parking supply that does not rely on taxes.
That’s it. No new leases were under consideration—just an extension of the term of existing leases from one year to twenty-five years in order to satisfy a requirement in our city’s development code. Note: our city's parking minimums require that any “leased” parking must be leased for a term of at least twenty-five years. To be clear, it’s not the developer who wants to “tie up” parking for twenty-five years, it’s what our code requires.
The request has plenty of precedent: long-term leases have already been issued to the Etha Hotel, the Element Hotel, the 5 West building, and the Lark Hotel. Given that lots of other hotels already have long-term leases in the garage—why not another?
And, indeed, why not another: hotel use occurs mostly at night, and the garage sits mostly empty at night. One woman who spoke at the hearing stated that she works closing shift downtown, and would prefer from a safety standpoint that the garage wasn’t so empty at night when she gets off work. Given that the garage was paid for with public dollars, don’t we have an obligation to try to use the resource to its full potential? If someone wishes to pay full price to use the empty garage at night, shouldn’t we say yes?
The garage was built with the expressed purpose of spurring the creation of new jobs and businesses downtown. If we can better use an underutilized resource, everyone benefits.
I couldn't find a good fact-based reason to say “no” to the request to extend the term of existing leases to allow something new to be created downtown. There are a few good fact-based reasons to say “yes:”
1) I don’t like empty parking. It’s wasteful, and I dislike waste. I don’t like big, empty parking lots, full of nothing except cracking asphalt and blowing trash. Empty parking is a waste—a waste of space (that could be used for housing, offices, etc.) and a waste to the city’s tax revenue collection (buildings downtown generate $32 per square foot for every $1 generated by a parking lot). If a hotel can use unused existing parking at night rather than creating new parking to sit empty for 16 hours per day, isn’t this a better use of space? (For example, a church, a bank, and a bar could all logically share the same parking. For each to have its own parking lot would be a waste.)
2) We can always build more parking. If we converted all of downtown’s surface parking to structured parking, we could increase the available supply during the busiest hour from 2000 unused parking spaces to 12,000 unused parking spaces.) The only trick is figuring out how to pay for it. (Parking, it turns out, is quite expensive to build!) Signing a long-term lease at market rates for parking gives us a mechanism to pay for creating more parking. In fact, the existing garage could be expanded by two more floors, if only we can find the $3.95m to pay for the project!