By Lee Weyland
Our community is facing a significant budget issue and some have raised the question of whether the city’s parking authority (PARC) should be privatized. Having seen the benefits of PARC firsthand, I strongly urge Metro Council members to keep PARC owned and controlled by Metro Government.
In addition to being a fiscally strong and well-managed public entity with a stable revenue stream and bonding capacity, it is also the most effective economic development tool our city has control over.
We are in a hyper-competitive battle with peer cities that have many more tools and advantages than we do, and given the inability to gain more control over our tax revenues through Frankfort (most recently the failed LIFT effort), PARC is an essential tool for our community to develop, grow and attract new investment and businesses in our city.
While privatizing the parking system might provide some initial infusion of funds, this will be far outweighed by our inability to support future economic activity and retain control over the cost and location of parking. As Insider Louisville reported, many other cities that have done this have, unfortunately, seen the negative impacts of such a short-term decision.
PARC started by bonding the on-street parking meter revenue in 1972 to build its first garage, the Riverfront (Belvedere) Garage to support the Galt House Hotel project, the major economic development project of its day. Since that time PARC has built an additional 14 parking garages in our city, each one providing support for development projects that otherwise would not have been feasible.
For example, the 8th and Main garage was a critical component of bringing Louisville Slugger back to downtown Louisville. Slugger now attracts over 200,000 visitors per year and was the catalyst that resulted in the revitalization of West Main Street, which has seen over $200 million in investment as a result.
Other PARC garages helped make feasible the Muhammad Ali Center, the YUM Center and the Omni Hotel. Our development firm has worked closely with PARC with two garages that support the Henry Clay, and the Waystar (formerly Zirmed) Building at 9th and Market that brought over 600 employees to the city, among other projects.
Imagine our city without these economically vital projects; the existence of PARC helped make these projects happen. In addition, the beauty of PARC is that it requires no tax dollars to operate.
PARC assists these projects not by directly funding these projects, rather it provides bond proceeds to build the parking garages, and uses the garage and meter revenue to service the bonds. Public parking rates are set to service the bond obligation; not to increase profits, which would be the case if privatized.
In fact, PARC has become a national model for how to effectively operate and manage parking in cities such as Louisville, as other cities look to us with envy in how our system is managed, both as a way to provide reasonably priced public parking and encouraging investment and development.
Consider the options: PARC provides Metro with a strong economic development tool to help support the most crucial projects in the community, provides well-managed public parking at reasonable rates, and does so without tax dollars being expended.
It is truly a win-win for the community. Compare this to a privatized system where not only do we lose the ability to support future projects, but where parking rates are set in order to maximize profits. The lure of a one-time infusion of some cash (much less than the estimates that have been tossed about) needs to be balanced against the long-term implications for the community.
Time is of the essence as the Metro Council meeting is Thursday. This is a critical issue for the city that will have ramifications for decades.
Lee Weyland manages the commercial leasing and brand development for a portfolio of over 750,000 square feet of multiuse urban properties for Weyland Ventures.