Work is finally getting underway on the exteriors of Minot’s downtown parking garages. The City-hired contractor wasted no time getting to it, and it’s a welcome sign of progress.
If you hadn’t heard, it’s going to cost the City approximately $573,000 because the original contract and drawings didn’t include the work.
City Council was the right to move the project forward. We as a City — whether you agree with the decision to build or need for the parking garages — have poured an enormous amount of money into these developments. We need to protect our investment, and that starts with getting them done. Or at least as close to done as we can while balancing many factors.
Unfortunately, the saga of the parking garages is far from finished.
First, the City is relying on a good faith effort from Cypress Development to put a more-permanent roof on the buildings. Supposedly, Cypress has an incentive to finish the roof on each building because they can’t get a permit to finish the commercial space inside until they do.
But the assumption that they have any interest in or wherewithal to finish the commercial space is a dangerous one for the City. And if Cypress were acting by that assumption, wouldn’t we have seen some progress toward that end over the summer construction season? There are a ton of things about this project that don’t add up, but a developer who — by some appearances — doesn’t look to be acting in their self-interest is an obvious red flag.
Second, the roof and protracted legal battle with Cypress that sits out there on the horizon is the annoying fly in the room. The elephant that we have to account for is what happens if they default and the low-income residential units don’t get built?
This project has gone on for so long that many have forgotten, but the City used Federal flood recovery money on the parking garages. We justified that spending with the low-income housing component of the project. In other words, the Feds let us use their dollars for parking garages because we were also going to build affordable housing.
That leaves us with an assumption I have no problem making — the Federal government expects us to hold up our end of the deal. And if we don’t, there will be consequences.
That’s why City Council should dig deep and find a few more dollars to spend on this project. As crazy as that sounds, we have to discover what our full liability is if these projects go further off the rails. It’s time for an outside, third-party audit. How can we make best decisions for the City without that full accounting?
And while we’re at it, we should task that same outside auditor to track down all the mistakes that were made getting here. It will be public; it will be painful, but at least the lessons will be out in the open.
Learning from mistakes is hard business, and for an institution like the City of Minot, the only way we as taxpayers can be confident those lessons have taken is by bringing them out into the daylight.