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County boots city’s request for parking discount

Thursday, September 17, 2015 by Caleb Pritchard

Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday shot down a request from the city of Austin for a slightly more generous pricing agreement on scores of downtown parking spaces.

The rare failure to reach interlocal accord underscored that the increasing popularity of downtown Austin as a destination is affecting not just residential and commercial real estate but also the value of vehicular storage space.

At issue are up to 110 parking spaces at the top of the 700 Lavaca Parking Garage, the county-owned monolith that provides some nine levels of parking over half a city block adjacent to county headquarters.

Since 2010, the city has paid $100 per month per space for its workers at the neighboring Faulk Central Library and Austin History Center. As that deal approached its expiration, county staff wrote a new contract with the spaces valued at $150 per month, or $198,000 for all 110 spaces for the entire year.

“The Facilities Management Department … believes that the market value for parking garages in the Austin downtown area will go up beyond $150 per space per month for unreserved parking space within the next two years,” Facilities Management Director Roger El Khoury told the commissioners on Tuesday. He said his department was offering the city the chance to lock in that rate for one year with the option to renew for a second.

Ron Olderog with the city’s Office of Real Estate Services was there to request a lower price on behalf of the library system. “They’re currently under a lot of financial needs right now with the new library being constructed,” Olderog said, referring to the new central library being built with $120 million in bond money approved by voters in 2006. “The increase was unanticipated for their budget as they were looking forward to the coming year.”

Olderog’s pitch caught some bipartisan sympathy from Commissioners Gerald Daugherty and Brigid Shea.

“I don’t know that it makes a lot of sense to charge more money to a fellow governmental partner, because we’re taxing the same population,” Shea said. “So I’d just ask us if we can consider a governmental rate.”

Daugherty agreed, adding, “I mean, we really need to work on this, because we are all in this together.”

Neither commissioner was swayed when County Judge Sarah Eckhardt pointed out that the $150-per-month rate is exactly what the city charges other governmental entities at its City Hall garage. Daugherty motioned to lower the rate to $140 per space per month and use that as a basis to negotiate a reciprocity agreement with the city.

Shea seconded the motion, which failed without the support of Eckhardt, Commissioner Ron Davis and Commissioner Margaret Gómez. The final contract for $150 per space did not require commissioners’ approval and will now head to City Council for that body’s stamp of approval.

According to the Austin Public Library’s Dana McBee, there are roughly 135 workers at the library and adjacent history center. The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority has 11 MetroBus routes that stop in a dedicated bus lane just in front of the history center. Yards away, in front of the library, there is a new stop for both of the transit agency’s premium MetroRapid lines. However, McBee told the Austin Monitor that the library system does not have a program to encourage workers to use alternative means of transportation as a strategy to reduce the need for parking spaces.

In the meantime, as part of the city’s Traffic Congestion Action Plan that was released this March, the Transportation Department is working on a comprehensive Employee Parking Cash-Out Program that will shift “the responsibility for choosing how to store a vehicle in the congested Downtown from the City as an employer to our employees within the central core.”

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