It’s NO misconception we are getting hosed on the Downtown Parking Ramp

God Bless Him! You can’t ever deny that Councilor Neitzert really digs in his heels when it comes to issues facing our city and does his research. He sent out this press release explaining the 12 misconceptions of the parking ramp debate. While I agree with him on some of these, the problem is that Greg gets so lost in the weeds on the finer details he misses the ‘Big Picture’ and doesn’t answer many key questions, mainly “Why are we subsidizing the building of the Hotel?” AND “Why are we signing a contract with Aaron Hultgren before his OSHA fines and legal problems are settled?”

But let’s take a finer look at what Mr. Neitzert came up with;

Misconception #1: The parking ramp cost has increased

Reality: This is the first time we have a specific project with a detailed design with a concrete number we can be confident in.  All previous estimates were just that – estimates based on theoretical assumptions and ballpark figures for planning purposes only, and many only included construction only costs.  Comparing this final project plan to previous conceptual projects is not appropriate.

While that is true, many want to know why some of these ‘ballpark’ figures were off by over 50%? That is either lazy or incompetent government at it’s worst.

Misconception #2: Tax dollars will be used to fund the project

Reality: The parking division, like our water, sewer, and landfill divisions, is an enterprise fund.  This means it gets 100% of its funding from user fees – in the case of the parking division parking meters, leases on ramps and parking lots, and fines.  Likewise, 100% of its expenditures come from user fees.  No general sales tax or property tax dollars can be used to fund the system.  Your property and sales tax dollars will NOT pay for this ramp.

True, the bonds will be paid for by user fees (and the 2nd penny if the enterprise fund runs low). But the real misconception here is that DT employers are going to be able to just float or eat those additional costs for parking for their employees. Those costs will be passed onto their consumers in higher prices for their products and services. All costs get passed on. It’s the left pocket, right pocket argument, is it a tax or a fee? IMO, any time government charges you for a service, that’s a tax.

Misconception #3: Rates for parking meters and leases of parking will have to be increased to pay for this ramp

Reality: Rates were already adjusted two years ago so that the parking enterprise collects enough revenue to fund operations, repair and maintenance, and capital cost to replace or add new parking ramps.

Greg must have missed the email from the council’s legislative and budget analyst showing that rates will be increased over the next 10 years. Maybe he needs to check his email box.

Misconception #4: The parking division cannot afford the debt service on this ramp

Reality: The parking division has no debt currently.  Stress testing scenarios and a detailed financial analysis have been performed on the system.  Even with a loss of major tenant’s downtown, the parking fund can make the debt service payment, maintain a cash reserve, fund operations, and continue repair and maintenance on existing ramps and parking lots.

If the parking division can handle the debt on their own, why are we using the 2nd Penny as collateral?

Misconception #5: The investors in this project are being kept secret

Reality: The public portion of the ramp is being financed with bonds that will be sold on the open market.  The private portion will be financed by investors and banking institutions that the developer must obtain.  When we enter partnerships with private firms, award bids for major road and sewer projects, or enter into contracts with private entities, we know who the winning firm is.  However, we do not know all of the investors, shareholders, or part-owners in those entities.  This is not something we obtain as a matter of course.  The city does not and will not know who the investors are in the private portion.  The city cannot keep something secret that it doesn’t know itself.

I can partially agree with Greg on this one and I understand his argument to an extent. The difference is 1) we are subsidizing this developer by at least $6 million on this project unlike a road project 2) Of the investors listed (4 guarantors) one of them is contesting $200K in fines from OSHA for the Copper Lounge collapse. I guess I’m more concerned about the liability of Mr. Hultgren than I am of the UNKNOWN investors.

Misconception #6: The City is paying for private development

Reality: The development agreement which runs over 100 pages stipulates in very specific detail who is responsible for what.  The city will construct the ramp, and the private entity will construct their private portion.  The developer is paying a portion of the storm drainage work, which both the ramp and private development will benefit from.  The developer is paying for the incremental share of the cost for the foundation which must be larger to support the hotel on top of the parking ramp.  The city is not paying or subsidizing the private development.

While it may be true that the developer is sharing ‘some’ costs, it is a very big stretch to say they are sharing all of the soft costs, because they are not (that has already been admitted by councilor Neitzert). It’s obvious in the price tag of this project and the number of spaces we are getting that we are paying a much bigger share of the ramp than what we should be. He can call it whatever he wants to, but I call that subsidizing the project.

Misconception #7: We are building a ramp for a private developer

Reality: All of the parking spaces will be publicly owned.  The developer will lease spaces like anyone else – at market rate.  The developer does not get any free or reduced price spaces.  The public will be able to lease or use spaces in this ramp, because they are owned by the city.

Not sure if this has ever been a misconception or even a concern. It’s a given. The concern is we are not getting enough (public) spaces for what we are paying.

Misconception #8: We are building a foundation for a private developer

Reality: The developer is paying for their share of the foundation, specifically the increased cost of the foundation to support the hotel on top of the ramp.

Can we see those numbers broken down? While I think they may be kicking in a portion, I don’t think they are truly sharing 50% of those costs. As I mentioned above, the high price tag for this ramp blatantly shows we are subsidizing either the developer or the construction company, and my money is on the developer.

Misconception #9: The developer is paying $1,041 dollars a month to lease our land

Reality: The development agreement is not a month to month lease and the developer is not obtaining exclusive use of the parcel.  It is a lump-sum payment based on current market value and appraisal for the rights to lease the air above the ramp and the portion of our city property in front of the ramp where the private commercial development will sit.  The appraisal takes several factors into account including the fact that the city is still able to use the parcel to its fullest potential for a parking ramp and the increased cost for the developer to build on top of a structure instead of bare ground.  The city will receive 1 million dollars in three portions before, during, and upon completion of the private development.  This lump sum payment takes into account the cost of the increased foundation that must be built to support the hotel and the fair market value of the air rights and partial use of the parcel in front of the parking ramp.

If you do the math, the lease payment does come to $1,041 per month. But that is neither here nor there when you look at the bigger deal. This is the first time the city has gone into a lease agreement like this of a one-time payment for 80 years. Not only is it unusual and poorly negotiated by the city, by allowing this kind of lease to be setup we are setting a precedent for other private businesses that want to lease from the city. I can here it already, “I want the Legacy lease deal.”

Misconception #10: We are only getting 390, 270, or X parking spaces

Reality: The ramp is projected to have 525 spaces.  All of the current spaces on the surface lot we are building on will be replaced with spaces in the ramp.  While the net increase in spaces will be about 390 (525 – 135 current surface parking spaces), the total number of spaces is 525.

So what was the misconception?

Misconception #11: We are not building enough spaces because we are allowing a developer to build on top of our ramp

Reality: We are building enough spaces to satisfy projected demand for the next decade.  Regardless of whether something is built on top of our ramp or not, we would not build any higher than we are building our ramp.  We also cannot go any farther horizontally.  Even if there was no private development, we would not build the ramp any larger or higher.

We are not building enough spaces for the value we are getting. But that has nothing to do with the size of the lot or the height of the ramp, it has to do with this NOT being the right plan. We should be getting 600 Public Parking spots for around $13-15 million. Instead we are getting 2/3rds that for $20 million. Having this partnership with a private developer is actually detrimental to our parking needs downtown. We would be better off and get more value and space building the ramp on our own. The city’s job, especially with an enterprise fund (sewer/water/parking) is to provide a service from a fee/tax. It is not the responsibility of an enterprise fund to subsidize private economic development. One of the reasons a partnership like this has probably never been done before, because it simply isn’t a good deal for the taxpayers.

Misconception #12: We are paying twice the national average for this parking ramp

Reality: The price for this ramp is approximately $26,000 per space using the standard construction cost only number.  The national median cost of a parking ramp per space is $20,000.  The standard median parking ramp for purposes of comparison is a basic bare bones ramp.  Our cost is slightly more because we are adding features and amenities either by code requirement (fire suppression systems) or for user comfort and increased service levels (example: wider drive aisles and parking spaces).  The newspaper article that stated this ramp would cost twice the national median price was based on an apples-oranges comparison of our total project cost (including construction, site prep, financing, debt reserve, architectural, engineering, and other costs) to the national median cost which includes ONLY the construction cost.

When San Franciso and LA can build EARTHQUAKE proof parking ramps for cheaper than we can, you have to question the price tag. As I said above, it isn’t a misconception, it’s pretty obvious with all these extra soft costs, etc., we are subsidizing the building of the hotel AND building them a Cadillac parking ramp. With the mention of the fire suppression system my guess is that the hotel’s portion of the ramp will be enclosed and heated. Still waiting for them to spring this on us, of course, after the contract is approved.

Like I said, many of the councilors, the mayor and his staff are missing the big picture on this project. It’s too damn expensive, it doesn’t provide enough public parking and we are signing the contract with a person who is a major legal liability. Argue about foundations and investors all you want. The simple fact is we are getting HOSED on this deal.



4 comments ↓

#1 Theresa stehly on 12.04.17 at 2:56 pm

This all came about in response to the postcard I mailed out last week stating the four main facts I have concerns about. Community Development Director Daren Kecham confirmed (at our Nov.21st Council meeting) that the facts on my card are accurate. The card is posted at an earlier date on this blog. I hope that the citizens had a chance to read the Argus leader editorial in last Sunday’s paper. I agree with all their points as well. At the end of the day,our community needs to have a respectful discussion about these concerns.

#2 Sierra broussard on 12.04.17 at 3:41 pm

We need more people like theresa on the council.I wouldn’t let Michelle’s remarks effect your job on the council.Its unfortunate that michelle is being disrespectful and said what she said about you theresa.When people are rich like michelle they don’t care about the average citizens tax payers money.

#3 Sierra broussard on 12.04.17 at 3:44 pm

At the same time its the average citizens tax money paying for the rich peoples mistakes.Richer get Rich Poor gets Poorer

#4 Warren Phear on 12.04.17 at 9:54 pm

I have had a good working relationship with Greg to this point. It troubles me greatly that he has chosen to litigate for an LLC instead of his constituency. Hopefully, he will learn something from this experience.

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