On Tuesday, January 11th, City Council will vote on whether or not to buy property downtown for a new parking deck.
Frequently Asked Question:
Q: How can a parking lot be worth less than one million dollars and more than five million dollars, both at the same time?
A: It’s worth under a million dollars when the owner is paying taxes. When he’s selling it to the city, it’s suddenly worth a whole lot more.
The parking lot at 51 Biltmore Avenue across from the double decker bus is owned by Public Interest Projects. The Tax Assessor says it's worth $870,000.
But when PIP sells it to the City for a parking deck, they claim it's worth more than $5,000,000.
If boondoggles were simple, everybody could see through them. When a deal is complex enough, folks have a hard time following it.
Here’s an attempt to sort this one out:
Asheville will pay Public Interest Projects $3.11 million for part of the parking lot, but not the air rights, not the portion that fronts on Lexington Avenue, and not the portion that fronts on Biltmore, all of which will remain with Public Interest Projects;
Asheville will pay Cascade Mountain Properties $1.45 million for the Hot Dog King property, but again not the whole thing. The valuable part, the frontage along Biltmore Avenue, and the frontage along Lexington Avenue, goes to Public Interest Projects.
Asheville will get a hole in the ground where it will build a parking deck, a structure that has to be strong enough to support a six story hotel on top of it.
McKibbon Hotels will pay Public Interest Projects $1.78 million for the air rights, and build a hotel on top of the City parking deck;
Tens of thousands of dollars worth City staff time has been taken up by the proposal. We have already paid at least $180,000 on options on the properties (that is, we have been paying the Hot Dog King $10,000 per month for the last two years!), and the City has spent $472,000 on appraisals, project management and design for the proposed deck.
Not in the public interest
Public Interest Projects is private, not public. It's a private, for-profit, development corporation that does not operate in the public interest. Many people think it’s a non-profit when they hear its name, but Public Interest Projects is nothing more than a developer with a misleading name.
Who gets what?
Public Interest Projects
PIP would receive $4.89 million in cash, plus the valuable storefronts on Biltmore Avenue and Lexington Avenue, all in exchange for a parking lot that's listed on the tax roles as being worth $870,000. Note that PIP is keeping all of the valuable frontage from which it stands to make million more.
Cascade Mountain Properties
Cascade would receive $1.45 million for a property that's listed on the tax roles at $778,800.
McKibbon would receive a sturdy, five story base for its hotel, making their whole hotel, even the lower floors, a high-rise.
Nearby downtown businesses
They would get 200 or so new parking spaces for their customers.
The City of Asheville
The City would get the bill, which comes to about $14.8 million.
Where does the money come from?
Asheville has just paid off all the bonds on the parking decks that we already have, so the revenue stream from them is now available for public transportation purposes.
Council could choose to spend this money on many things -- on parking, on new streets, on mass transit, bike lanes, greenways, or on sidewalks.
Instead, if this plan is adopted, all the money from all the decks and all the meters in town will be spent, for the next ten years, on this one project, and some of the money, in a decreasing percentage, for fifteen years after that.
The least environmentally friendly way to spend this money is on bringing more automobiles into the city. Adding more cars downtown just adds pollution, noise, and gridlock. Spending this money on parking is the worst choice for our environment.
If we spend that $14.8 million on sidewalks instead of parking decks, Asheville would soon have the sidewalks we so desperately need.
East Asheville needs sidewalks. The veterans walking on Tunnel Road would have sidewalks to get from the Vets Quarters to the VA Hospital. Children could visit a friend a few houses over without risking their lives walking in the streets.
A safety issue for veterans and kids versus the interests of the corporations sounds like an easy call to us.
Do we need more parking downtown?
Maybe, but there’s already a lot of parking downtown and nearby.
Look at our periodic fireworks displays. Thousands of residents crowd Pack Square. They just park a few blocks away, and walk over.
Which means that it must be tourists who need a parking deck, not residents.
But City Council is supposed to make the best decisions for ALL of Asheville, not just for the developers and the tourist interests.
Not much parking
We’re not even getting much parking for our money.
The deck can’t ever expand because there's a hotel on top of it. It's slated to have about 412 parking spaces.
But we're not gaining 412 spaces. The project will occupy 100 parking spaces that exist now, and the hotel will use up another 88 or so, leaving a net gain of just 212 spaces – for a whopping $14.8 million.
Can we afford this? Is this a wise use of our City tax dollars?
Several of our City Council members were elected in part because they said they were hard-headed busness owners who would make wise financial decisions.
This is a great deal for the businesses involved, but not for Asheville. Ask council if they would want a business that they owned to make this same decision!
What happens next?
Next Tuesday, January 11th, City Council will have a public hearing on this project.
This is the time for the public to weigh in. The meeting is in the City Building at 5PM so please attend if you can.
Not many folks would pass up a chance to sell a million dollar lot for five million dollars, so we can’t really blame the developer.
It’s our City Council who is responsible to see that this doesn’t happen.
It’s our City Council that we elected to see to our interests, regardless of how often or how well the developers lobby them.