Hartford Must Be Cautious About Leasing Parking Concession
March 29, 2010
When economic times are tough, the temptation for government is to sell the furniture, to look for quick-fix, one-time revenue boosts to get through the crisis. The question leaders should ask is whether they'll miss the asset when the economy comes back.
That could well be the case with Hartford's city-owned parking spaces. The city is exploring the idea of monetizing its 6,396 downtown metered and off-street parking spots — offering them in what the Hartford Business Journal reports is likely a 20- to 30-year lease in return for an as-yet-unspecified amount of money up front.
That number had better end with a lot of zeros.
Though a number of cities around the country have monetized parking spaces, and some states have done it with toll roads as well, it is a practice to be approached with great care. As a rule, public management of public infrastructure is most responsive to the public.
For example, the city's economy could come back in the next five or 10 years, as, not implausibly, transit improvements and smart-growth measures increase downtown population and entice new employers. The parking garages might generate more revenue. The city wouldn't get it. The city might want to put a building on its Main Street surface lot — hard to do if the lot is tied up in a long-term lease.
Also, as the group Business For Downtown points out, some cities that have made this kind of deal are now experiencing 24/7 parking tickets. The city's restaurants and clubs don't have enough challenges?
Finally, using one-shot revenues to fill serious budget gaps only kicks the can down the road, putting off structural change until next year (as state lawmakers appear to be doing).
Nonetheless, Hartford faces a deficit of almost $30 million — partly a result of weak fiscal discipline over the past half-dozen years — and doesn't have many options. If the parking sale could net enough revenue to offset multiyear budget deficits, city leaders will have to consider it. But what do we sell next year? The river?
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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