New plan to create local control
A city of Cincinnati parking meter on Fifth Street.
CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati officials are considering a new parking deal to upgrade parking meters with the help from the Port Authority, but keep City Hall in charge of all decisions about rates and enforcement hours.
Mayor John Cranley is floating a proposal to City Council members that calls for the city’s Parking Services Department to retain control of the parking system.
The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority would issue up to $30 million in revenue bonds to finance major improvements to the meters. The money also would be used to build a long-planned parking garage at Seventh Street and Broadway downtown.
Upgrades would include making all meters remotely accessible to motorists via smartphones.
“We will control all enforcement, all rates and all revenues,” Cranley said.
In return, city officials would lease the Fountain Square South parking garage, located under the Westin Hotel, to the Port Authority.
Other aspects of the plan include:
The garage would generate about $500,000 annually for the Port Authority. The revenues would be used to help the agency’s work in promoting economic development and cleaning up contaminated industrial sites.
Improvements made to the city’s parking meters are estimated to generate about $6.3 million in the first year, increasing to $7.6 million by the third year.
The latest proposal is significantly different than the parking plan floated last year by then-Mayor Mark Mallory and the previous City Council.
In March 2013, the last City Council voted 5-4 to OK the lease of city-owned parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority.
Under the earlier lease, the city would’ve been paid a total of $105 million over the lease’s term, with an upfront payment of $85 million. The money would’ve been used to balance the city’s budget for two years, along with quickening the pace of some development projects citywide.
Opponents – which included many small business owners – worried it would result in rate increases and lessen public accountability for how the garages and meters are managed.
Additionally, some critics said the Port Authority would have to rely on aggressive enforcement to meet its revenue estimates for the city.
Cranley, who campaigned against the parking lease, said the latest proposal is a better deal for taxpayers.
“The big thing is, we’re not monetizing the value of the meters and saddling future generations with the debt,” Cranley said. “The old plan added to the deficit. The new plan helps solve our deficits.”
The new plan includes a five-year projection of parking system revenues and expenses, covering the period from July 2014 until June 2019.
Under the plan, the city would buy 3,618 single-space, smart parking meters, which would be installed using existing poles.
The city would continue using its existing 1,431 single- space, smart meters and not replace them during the five-year period.
Parking meters would remain free on Sundays.
Also, the city would hire 10 new parking enforcement officers, and be added to the five currently on staff.
About 66,000 citations were issued in 2013. A study by the city’s parking consultant found the productivity of existing parking enforcement officers falls slightly below the industry median.
“The percentage of citation opportunities is also expected to decrease somewhat as parking patrons will have more options to pay for time at the IPS meters, including credit cards and cell phone payments, and this additional offering of options will result in higher compliance with parking regulations,” concluded the report by Walker Parker Consultants.
“Overall, a benchmark will be established at roughly 25-30 citations per day per (full-time) officer,” the report added.
The proposal also calls for the city to revise its 10-minute free parking policy for downtown, so the free time is not added on to paid time.
Parking consultants estimate an additional $420,000 to $500,000 in meter revenues will be generated as a result of the policy change.
During the plan’s five-year period, parking citation rates would remain the same as current rates.
So far, Vice Mayor David Mann and Council Members
Kevin Flynn, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn support Cranley’s proposal.
The mayor is hopeful one or two other council members will join the effort.
Although the plan formally will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, it probably won’t be voted upon for two weeks. The measure will go through the committee review process first, Cranley said.
“We don’t want to make any commitments or promises until we know for sure” about further council support, the mayor said. “I am willing to be flexible, if necessary.”
For more stories by Kevin Osborne, visit www.wcpo.com/osborne . Follow him on Twitter at @kevinwcpo