City Council meets tonight. The agenda includes more than a few items you should know about; read it here. Perhaps most interesting, two items related to our infamous downtown parking garages will be considered.
First, where should the City employees park when City Hall moves downtown later this year? That is a timely question. More on that in a moment.
Second, what should we do with the parking garages? If you remember, Minot’s downtown parking garages were designed with a big vision — to have upper floors developed into apartments and commercial space at street level. The project delivery failures and lawsuit with the developer killed those original good ideas. Still, we’ve gotten back to imagining a new future with the foundation they provide. That’s exciting.
So, while your imagination runs on what the parking garages could become, let’s get down to business on the immediate need — employee parking.
The recommendation is simple; let the employees park in the Renaissance Ramp for free. No doubt, it’s a solution of convenience. The move-in is coming; employees are accustomed to driving to work and having a parking space. The City controls the parking garage next door, and it is currently underutilized.
But nothing about parking downtown is ever simple, and we can be sure it’s never free, either. Those parking garages cost us taxpayers many millions of dollars. If you wanted to park in that same garage, it would cost you $600 per year. If we add up the proposed cost of parking City employees there — it’s $48,000 per year. Over 10 years, it’s nearly half a million dollars.
It’s important to look at the long-term costs because government decisions are sticky. Once decided, it’s often may years before they get reconsidered.
But there’s another cost associated, too, and that’s the opportunity cost. What do we give up by letting 80 employees occupy almost half of the parking spots in the ramp — for free?
Those ramps were developed to serve the envisioned apartments and commercial space. They were also designed to serve the larger downtown community. Those were tax and revenue generating concepts. What happens to our redevelopment opportunities if we entitle those spaces to public employees? That is potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars a year we lose in taxes and revenue.
Suddenly, we’re talking about some valuable parking spaces. Does a decision like that need a full consideration of all the details and future costs and consequences?
The answer is yes.
And so, the question becomes, what do we do about employee parking? Solve the problem for this year, but then we have to start asking the hard questions. What future vision do we want the parking garages to serve? Is it the long-term vision of downtown or do we use them as an added perk and benefit of working for the City at our City Hall location?
If it’s an added perk and benefit, it should probably be considered as a part of the benefit package and included with our budget. And while we’re at it, let’s start being honest and transparent about the costs — there’s no such thing as ‘free’ parking. From here on out, let’s call it taxpayer-subsidized parking.