City eyes parking deal despite passed deadline

The fate of the parking garage on Water Street is currently unknown as the owner, Charlottesville Parking Center, considers several offers.

Commuters who work in Charlottesville and some downtown residents soon could be scrambling to find somewhere to park other than Water Street Parking Garage.

By next month, nearly 1,000 parking spaces in the garage could remain empty indefinitely if the concerns of the city’s downtown business association come true.

In a letter to the City Council and Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown, the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville relayed that it will not “take sides” in a dispute between the CPC and the city.

Brown filed a lawsuit last month against the city, alleging that public officials are “wasting the property interest” of the CPC by conspiring to keep rates in the Water Street garage below market rate.

The garage is owned by the Water Street Parking Garage Condominium Association, which includes the city and the Charlottesville Parking Center as unit holders. CPC, which is contracted to manage and operate the parking services and commercial spaces at the site, receives rental income from the garage.

Opting to stay neutral in the dispute, newly elected association Chairman George Benford said the DBAC wants both parties to resolve the lawsuit before the skirmish spills over into the daily routine of the garage’s patrons and others.

“We hope that both parties will compromise, take the good of the community into consideration and forgo all personal vendettas,” Benford’s letter says. “Rumors have been floating around for the past few days that one option would be to close the Water Street garage in early May, thus losing many parking spaces for those wishing to do business on the [Downtown Mall]. This we find unacceptable.”

Benford did not say where he first heard the rumor. The parking center and business association share an office on the Downtown Mall.

“All I’ve heard is from number of sources that said it is option being considered,” Benford said in a phone interview. “I do not know for sure if that was started by Mark [Brown]. All I know is I’ve heard it … it’s pretty well known by people downtown that it’s a possibility.”

City Attorney Craig Brown suggested the rumor may have started to spread after the CPC sent the condominium association a letter earlier this month that said the CPC would hold the association in default if the contractually required annual budget is not approved before May 6.

"CPC cannot continue to serve as managing agent for the balance of the term of the agreement without the required authorization from the [Water Street Garage Parking Garage Condominium] Association," Mark Brown said in the letter. "The association's failure in this regard has rendered it impossible for CPC to fulfill its obligations under the [management] agreement."

Despite the fact the condominium association was unable to approve the rates or pass an annual budget, the CPC has continued to operate the garage in “good faith.”

Craig Brown said the association’s Board of Directors could potentially approve an authorization for the CPC to incur expenses in operating the garage.

“If the projected expenses are the normal, routine expenses that are incurred in the operation of the garage (and I anticipate they would be),” he said, “I am confident that the city representatives on the Board of Directors would vote to authorize those expenses.”

The Water Street Garage Board of Directors is evenly split between eight representatives for the city and the parking center. Rates, which are set each calendar year, must be approved by more than two-thirds of the board, according to the lawsuit.

Prior to the start of the 2016 calendar year, the CPC wanted to increase the rate to $145 a month for public spaces, $180 for reserved spaces and $2.50 an hour for transient spaces.

According to the lawsuit, the city wanted to set the rate at $125 a month for public spaces, $140 for reserved spaces and to remain at $2 an hour for transient spaces.

Rates are not as high at the Market Street Garage, which the city wholly owns. According to the lawsuit, city officials proposed to increase the Water Street Garage rates for this year but keep them lower than the rates for the Market Street Garage.

According to the CPC website, monthly pre-paid parking is still available at both garages. However, there are waiting lists for reserved spaces at both garages, including the 24-hour reserved access area at the Water Street Parking Garage.

In light of characterizations that “strong personalities” and “personal vendettas” may be involved in the litigation, according to the Downtown Business Association’s letter, Mayor Mike Signer denied having any bad feelings toward the CPC’s owner.

In an email Tuesday, Signer distanced himself from the tense rhetoric and drama surrounding the lawsuit.

“The roots of this conflict go back years before I came onto council. Mr. Brown and I have only talked a couple of times. I do not know him well, but I admire his business success and bear him no ill will. He has sued the city, and our staff and attorneys, of course, need to defend the City vigorously. However, I have every hope that the city and Mr. Brown can arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution of this situation.”

In addition to seeking $1 million in damages, Brown — who purchased CPC in 2014 for $13.8 million — wants an injunction against the city from making future decisions related to rates.

Chris Suarez can be reached at csuarez@dailyprogress.com or (434) 978-7274.

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Chris Suarez is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, csuarez@dailyprogress.com or @Suarez_CM  on Twitter.

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