Town Square Parking: The Next Generation

Parking Pay Station in Town Square: System Slated for Retirement

At its August 15, 2011 meeting, in 35 minutes the Mayor and Council of the City of Rockville unanimously approved a fifty-year lease of the three Town Square parking garages to Street Retail, Inc. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT)).  As Rockville Patch and the Gazette have reported, the lease provides the City with $300,000 in annual rent plus 30 percent of net income and FRIT manages and maintains the garages 24/7 as a “first class public parking garage.”  The wayfinding system (red/green lights for each parking space) will stay but FRIT will remove the paying system where you enter your parking space number at a station.  FRIT sets all the parking rates (including monthly passes and prepaid cards) and can establish a validated parking system beginning September 1, 2011 for fifty years.

That’s an incredibly long time, especially when I, all the current council members, and perhaps even you won’t be living when this agreement comes to an end.  I guess you don’t always get to see things in life to their natural conclusion (my home mortgage?) but in major situations like this, I’d like to consider the impact not only on the next City Council but the next generation of city residents.  Although we’re all familiar with time and we measure it precisely down to the second, it’s surprisingly fungible.  An hour waiting at the DMV seems so much longer than an hour watching a good movie.  So we know that this lease will end in 2061, but what would that look like?  To explore this idea, I’ve assembled a timeline looking both forward and back fifty years:

Rockville Timeline: Fifty Years Forward and Back (click to enlarge)

By the time this lease expires:

  • King Farm will be considered an older neighborhood, like Woodley Park is today.
  • Rockville will have celebrated its Bicentennial.
  • 9/11 will be as familiar as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Most of the Mayor and Council will have been toddlers when the lease was approved.
  • Most people will call the “old post office” the “old police station”.
  • There will be a big debate whether Town Square is historic and should be saved or is old fashioned and unattractive and should be demolished.

Okay, the last one is just a prediction, but given our town’s track record it’s highly likely (geez, we’re debating whether Glenview Mansion should be a local historic landmark).    The lease looks reasonable to me because it guarantees that the city receives significant revenue that rises annually with CPI, plus they are no longer have to handle the headaches of management, maintenance, and especially complaints–that’s all been given over to FRIT–and it’s anticipated that this change will reduce the City’s FY2012 parking budget (which includes the parking garages, meters, and fines) by 31 percent. The City is still responsible for repaying the construction bonds until 2036 for about $1 million annually (but they have to be reissued for this lease to proceed, and it’ll result in a higher borrowing rate; for more details, see page 3-20 of the Fund Summaries for the FY2012 Adopted Operating Budget).  I do have a couple concerns.  Although the staff report states that, “the City will no longer have any expenses associated with the garages either maintenance or capital for the next fifty years [sic],” I haven’t been able to find anything in the lease that exempts the City from capital (aka major or longterm) expenses (and it seems that it was discussed at the meeting, but it wasn’t clear nor audible). On the other hand, the staff report doesn’t mention that the City is responsible for damages due to “Casualty”–any sudden or unexpected event such as flood, hurricane, or fire–and that the City cannot terminate or cancel this lease except if FRIT defaults. So this really is something the next generation or two will have to live with (and I still don’t understand how they arrived at fifty years).

A couple other things I learned from reading the lease and watching the meeting (got to keep this interesting):

  1. The City has pre-existing agreements for parking for:
    • Choice Hotels (225 spaces)
    • County Library employees (111 spaces)
    • Gold’s Gym (70 spaces)
    • Rockville Police Department (40 spaces)
  2. Some people have wondered about free parking for the library or Visarts.  The proposed fee structure will charge for all uses at all times, but you can receive two hours of free parking if you purchase something at a store or restaurant (a purchase must be made; window shopping or visiting the library doesn’t count).  The emphasis of the lease is to support the retail operations of Town Square.  The City’s current free parking coupons expire on August 31.
  3. The agreement (available as a pdf in the agenda) was crafted by Paul Glasgow of Venable LLP, who is the attorney representing FRIT and was formerly the City Attorney for the City of Rockville, and has some reference errors (e.g., definition of “system” in 1.34 incorrectly refers to 7.2 and it should be 7.3).

The entire meeting is available on video, however, it is difficult to hear the conversation at times because the FRIT representatives speak from the audience rather than the dais (you can only hear the person holding the microphone).  For years, parking in the Town Square has been a highly contentious issue ever since the garages were constructed, but this significant lease seems to have attracted no attention.  Although this item wasn’t a public hearing, no one spoke for or against it during Citizen’s Forum and none of the Councilmembers mentioned any serious concerns or misgivings.  Indeed, Phyllis Marcuccio, Piotr Gajewski, Bridget Newton, and John Britton praised the agreement and Mark Pierzchala made the motion to approve it.  You can sense this year’s incumbents for City Council will all be claiming credit for this lease.

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2 responses

  1. Max,
    It was a very poor decision for the City to get back into the garage business after the of losses it suffered from the old Mall parking garage. It cost the City 3 million to just tear it down!

    1. People often think history is boring and irrelevant, and then something like this happens. Gosh, we can learn a lot from our own past experiences (otherwise we suffer from a self-imposed amnesia).

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