A Fifteen Million Dollar (yes, $15,000,000) Mistake
The City of Asheville is poised to make what I deem to be a terrible financial commitment. This month's newsletter is focused on the choice to be made at our January 25 meeting.There are inumerable bad angles to this deal, so I hope you dedicated City citizens will bear with me! (And I've included several links to further discussion of the matter, as well as a cartoon.)
For the past four (or more) years, the City has been cooking a deal with the private development company, Public Interest Projects, and the McKibbon Hotel Group. The deal involves City purchase of the pit parking lot at 51 Biltmore Ave. (across Aston from the Doubledecker Coffee Bus).
In brief, the deal calls for the City to buy land (but not the air rights* to the land) and build a parking deck which will add about 192 public parking slots at a cost of almost $15 million. The principal beneficiary of the deal is the developer, PIP, and secondarily McKibbon. The City is signed on to purchase the land at a super premium, pre-recession price.
In order to do this deal, the City would borrow $14.8 million against projected parking fee receipts. This deal would require ALL of the receipts from all City parking decks and meters for the first ten years, and a declining percentage out to 25 years. (This deck won't pay for itself for at least 35 years.) Parking receipts can only be used for parking, transit or pedestrian projects: sidewalks, greenways, and other transit options that could be funded will be shelved for ten years.
*PIP is retaining and selling the "air rights" to the property. Generally when a buyer obtains property it includes such rights, but in this case McKibbon is purchasing a portion of the rights separately, and PIP is holding others for future use.
If you'd like to let other Council members know how you feel, click here.
Options not explored
One of the most aggravating pieces of the proposed parking deal is that there has been no serious consideration of alternatives. We paid a consultant, Kimley-Horn, to deliver a parking study—but their study included NO consideration of how a circulating shuttle might affect parking demand. A recent update of their study showed no change.
AND, Kimley-Horn was also hired to manage design and construction of the deck. In my world, that looks like a huge conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, across the country we are seeing a shift to transit instead of city-subsidized parking as the smart way to go.
The price we are paying. WHAT?!!!
City Staff generated a report on comparable property sales in 2010. The City paid $40 per square foot for a surface parking area, and a private company paid $66 psf for a surface lot.
The prospective deal has the City paying the development company, PIP, $98 psf for the 51 Biltmore property, and the Hot Dog King property owners approximately $152 psf. Yet just down Biltmore Ave. the Matthews Ford parking lots are offered for sale today for $17 to $25 psf.
There are retail properties available within a block or so for one third the $98 figure, including parking and excellent retail buildings. All of these property offerings include air rights. Why is the City getting such a raw deal?
The 21st Century Alternatives
Municipal parking decks were either a great, or, really, stupid answer for city planners in the 20th Century.
Our government was taking care of GM and Exxon, and saw automobiles as the way of the future. But conditions change. Our dependence on foreign oil has embroiled us in wars and cost us far too much in cash paid to Mid-East countries. As gas prices go up in the post-oil-peak era, we are bound to drive less. In January 2009, the NC state average was $1.75 per gallon. Today some stations in Asheville are charging $3.15 for regular. Some reputable analysts see U.S. prices rising to $5 or even $7 by the end of 2012.
Asheville's parking garage receipts fell from 2009 to 2010. Should we borrow money against future parking receipts that may be over-optimistic? What if auto use falls quickly?
And how will any rational response to climate change NOT involve rising fuel prices? An expanded commitment to carbon-based fuels is a vote against the human future.
My goals for 2011
If you have suggestions, or critiques, fire away!
Draft Copy -My Council Goals for 2011
• Withdraw from participation with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, unless they pull out of the U.S. Chamber. It's wrong for taxpayer money to go to an organization that is funding political campaigns.
• Public financing of local elections - I'd like to put a referendum on the November ballot.
• Vote on a Civil Liberties resolution which I've been working on all year with community groups, churches, the United States Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the ACLU and local attorneys.
• Implement the Domestic Partners Benefits we approved in principle last year.
• Create Domestic Partner registry in Asheville.
• Form a Food Policy Council, as an official city board.
• Approve a "three-strikes" law concerning City contracts and purchasing, to prohibit doing business with companies which have been thrice found guilty of violating labor, civil rights, environmental or tax laws.
• Advance provision of ESL classes, particularly for women and perhaps in conjunction with day-care facilities or public housing.
• Seek federal includion in the Power Saver program, to fund energy saving retrofits in FHA approved homes.
• Create a Transportation Oversight Committee.
• Conduct a community carbon assessment and set community goals.
• Approve replacement of all city street lights with LEDs, saving upward of $350,000 per year in electric bills.
• Contract with a solar power company to install photovoltaic panels on the Civic Center roof.
• Institute a city-wide ban on tree-topping.
• Reduce spacing on parking lot trees, add a specified shade requirement.
• Extend the steep slope law to protect all steep slopes in the City, not just those over 2200 feet in elevation.
• Implement conservation water rates and level the rate structure between residential and commercial users. (Current residential rates subsidize commercial use.
• Stop fluoridating Asheville's water
• Advance the Transit/Bicycle/Greenway Master Plans, including a downtown trolley or shuttle system.
• Fund more sidewalk construction outside of downtown.
• Increase parking fees in decks and at meters, with a lower deck rate for city taxpayers.
• Evaluate our provision of handicapped parking spaces and increase the number if we are below average for cities our size.
• Move forward with a Chicken Hill mountain bike skills park - to be built adjacent to and under the Smoky Park Bridge. (Following meetings with local advocates, I've been in touch with Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" program to seek start-up funding on this effort.)
• Facilitate creation of a sports complex in the River District. I've been talking to proponents and willing investors about a water park/ice rink/roller skate/beach volleyball/food court facility. (ideas welcome)