Risky Business: City must weigh consequences of leasing metered spots and lots
September 09, 2010
Parking has eaten up so much land and so many buildings that it has nearly been the ruin of downtown Hartford. Is it possible that the tables could turn?
The city is cautiously moving ahead on a plan to monetize the more than 6,000 metered and off-street parking places it owns by leasing them to a private operator for up to 50 years in return for an unspecified — but presumably hefty — upfront payment. The money would go toward a "game-changer" project aimed at improving the city's economy.
The impulse here is a good one. Hartford's got to get off the dime and try something that will put residents to work and make the city more attractive to live in and visit.
But city officials can't let this deal tie their hands. Should the council in its wisdom decide to narrow streets or put a building on its Main Street surface lot, it cannot be inhibited by the parking contract. One of the city's planning goals is to stop the proliferation of parking lots. Would a private operator be OK with that?
A number of cities around the country have monetized parking spaces, and some states have done it with toll roads as well, with mixed results. Some Chicago residents complained of too many parking tickets after the Windy City embarked on such a program. Privatizing public infrastructure is a practice to be approached with great caution.
In short, if this isn't a flexible and highly advantageous arrangement, the mayor and council should not approve it. But maybe there's another way to achieve the same thing.
First, a game-changer project doesn't have to be a mega-project. How about some infill housing downtown, or a couple of small factories on the fringe of downtown? A retail or small business incubator?
It might be possible to create public-private partnerships for smaller projects, with the right kind of incentives.
In any event, the parking concession idea has created a bit of momentum that could well build to something productive.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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