Romano: My kingdom — or my tax dollars — for a parking space!

St. Petersburg City Hall. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
St. Petersburg City Hall. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Dec. 19, 2017

In downtown St. Pete, you are entitled to certain unalienable rights.

Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of a parking space.

They are disappearing, you know. Day by day, and lot by lot. It seems every gravel surface is targeted for some type of development, and that means every driver is destined to circle the block at least twice.

Which brings us to the story of the $26,500 parking spaces.

The St. Petersburg City Council gave the preliminary go-ahead last week to fund construction of a parking garage in the Edge District off Central Avenue and 13th Street.

For folks who live, work, shop or eat around there, this is undoubtedly good news. As traffic in the area has increased, the number of parking spaces has decreased due to all the new construction.

So the need for a parking garage seems pretty well-established.

The outrageous cost of parking garages is also grudgingly accepted. In this case, to build a structure that is reinforced enough to, perhaps one day, have condos built on top of it, the cost will be roughly $6 million. Or, if you prefer, about $26,500 for every space in the multilevel garage.

The city has tax revenues sitting in an account specifically for this type of investment in neighborhood infrastructure, so the plan seems reasonable. At least up to this point.

Where it gets a little wobbly is in the ownership.

St. Pete doesn't want it.

The city will pay to build the garage, and then turn over the running of the structure to a development group that is planning to build at least 64 apartments, along with 10,000 square feet of retail in the area.

In return, St. Pete will get a tiny cut of revenue generated from the garage.

Give away a garage? Does that make sense?

City staff seems to think so. The council does, too. Unanimously, I might add.

"I suppose you could argue either side of it,'' said City Council member Karl Nurse, whose district the garage would be built in. "Candidly, it's the end result that I'm most interested in. We have the use of the garage for 50 years with very little downside to the city. We didn't have to buy the land, and the property will remain on the tax roll. That's the trade-off.''

The argument goes like this:

The neighborhood is desperate for parking, and the city didn't have any land immediately available. By building on a parcel controlled by the developer, the city saved money it would have spent to purchase land. And by allowing the developer to take control of the garage, the city avoids the long-term costs of maintaining and repairing the property as well as the immediate expenses for security, insurance, sanitation, etc.

The city estimates the cost savings to be $1.3 million over the course of a 50-year deal, which is roughly $26,000 a year. In other words, fairly negligible. And council members said they would rather eliminate the potential risk of revenues being too low, as opposed to the potential reward of the garage becoming a cash cow.

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"The idea is to build a garage for the public's benefit,'' said City Council Chair Darden Rice.

I'll buy that.

Even at $26,500 a space.