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Port authority to buy 3 city garages

$15M deal includes takeover of downtown parking meters
Port-authority-to-buy-3-city-garages.jpgToledo-Lucas County Port Authority directors Thursday signed off on their agency's purchase of three city parking garages and the takeover of parking-meter management in downtown Toledo by approving two bond issues totaling $16 million -- $10 million in state funds and $6 million from the port authority's Northwest Ohio Bond Fund.

The debt would give the port authority financing to buy the Vistula, Port Lawrence, and Superior garages from the city for an estimated $15 million, plus some working capital to begin making improvements at the three garages and to metered parking.

Toledo City Council must approve the plan, with a first reading expected on Tuesday.

Toledo's 2011 general-fund budget includes assumed revenue of $4.85 million from asset sales to balance the books.

Thomas Winston, the port authority's finance director, said approving the bond issues represents the port board's consent -- it will not need to act separately on the garage purchases once terms are negotiated with the city.

"We expect this to be done over the next couple of months," Mr. Winston said.

Councilman Mike Craig told port board members that while he has not canvassed his colleagues, he also has heard no substantial objections to the garages' sale and expects smooth sailing for the proposal.

"I haven't seen any push-back on this issue. I think it's a great deal," Mr. Craig said, adding later, "I'll go out on a limb and say this could be unanimous."

Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of council's finance committee, said the city estimated conservatively on what it could receive for the parking assets.

"Many of us in the city are intent on trying to get the city out of the real estate business," Mr. Sarantou said. "We owe about $9.8 million on the bonds for the garages, which includes tearing down the Sports Arena."

The garages have about 2,400 parking spaces, while downtown Toledo streets have about 800 metered spaces, Mr. Winston said. All now are managed by the parking authority, which was organized in 1995 by the city and Downtown Toledo Vision Inc.

Mr. Winston said the port authority likely would retain the parking authority in the short term, but eventually issue a request for proposals to solicit other potential managers.

Mr. Sarantou said the parking authority "has done a good job, and they have the knowledge."

The parking facilities are among a catalogue of assets the deficit-ridden city has put up for sale in hopes of raising cash for its operations. They are by far the most valuable to date to find a buyer, with the only other large sales involving The Docks restaurant complex on the Maumee River in East Toledo and 69 acres of the nearby Marina District development site. The $2.15 million sale of The Docks and the pending $3.8 million Marina District deal both involve Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., a Chinese investment group.

Bond issues for the parking transaction would include a $10 million, tax-exempt bond issue through the Ohio Department of Transportation State Infrastructure Bank Bond Fund and $6 million in taxable bonds from the port authority's fund. Proceeds would, in part, pay off the city's $9.8 million in debt on the garages.

Port board chairman Opie Rollison said having his agency take over the city's parking operations "maintains control within the community" instead of losing it to an outside operator who may not have Toledo's best interests at heart.

"This way, we don't have somebody from Chicago telling us what we're going to do," he said.

Board member James Tuschman said that under port authority oversight, downtown parking would be made more efficient and profitable.

"We're not just taking over parking," he said. "We're really going to evaluate the whole parking operation."

The port authority would use future parking fees and fines to pay off the bonded debt, cover operating expenses, create a capital reserves, and contribute to a Downtown Development Fund.

Any surpluses would be divided between the port authority and the city.

The port authority proposal does not include buying the city's parking meters, only managing them, but Mr. Winston said the installation of more "smart meters" that accept credit cards as well as cash is likely down the road. Such meters would be more convenient and also reduce coin-handling costs and theft exposure.

The proposed acquisition has no bearing on privately owned garages and parking lots scattered throughout downtown Toledo that have been the subject of recent controversy.

Board member Jerry Chabler said parking fees of $20 to $30 that have been charged on some downtown event nights are "outrageous," while licensed lot operators have protested the lower rates charged by other business owners, not licensed for public parking, who have sold space in their lots during events.

To the former complaint, Mr. Craig responded that charging more than the rates lot owners have filed with the city is illegal.

City officials in mid-April announced a crackdown on unlicensed parking lots.
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