At the urging of Mayor-elect John Cranley and seven members of the new council, the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati has agreed to stop the controversial lease of Cincinnati’s parking meters and five city garages.
Cranley and seven members of the council that will take office Dec. 1 wrote a letter to Port Authority president and CEO Laura Brunner Monday night saying it is “not in the community’s interests or the long-term interests of the Port Authority to proceed.”
“What I was concerned about was giving that asset of the city on such a long term basis,’’ Cranley said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Westin Hotel, surrounded by Brunner and four of the seven members of the new council who signed the letter.
“Once it is out, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,’’ Cranley said.
The letter asked the Port Authority to delay approving the bonds which would have meant an upfront payment of $85 million to the city so the parking meters and garages could be turned over to private companies to operate.
At the press conference, Brunner said that “out of respect for this group, we have done just that. We have delayed the issuance of the bonds.”
The Port Authority board was on the verge of issuing bonds on Wednesday. It was able to pull out of the deal because contracts with the private companies have not been finalized.
At the press conference, Cranley said the scuttling of the parking lease deal would not mean the city could not go forward with projects like the Interstate 71 interchange at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and the construction of a bike path on Wasson Way.
“Things like the Martin Luther King interchange are going to be done,’’ Cranley said. “We have a healthy capital (improvements) fund.”
The city had planned to use some of the money for a new police and fire training class. Cranley said the city can still find the money to do that.
Some of the money would have gone toward balancing the next city budget, but Cranley insisted that could be done without depending on a one-shot infusion of cash from the parking meter lease.
It wasn’t worth tying the city down to a parking meter lease agreement of 30 years and a 50-year agreement for a private firm to run the garages.
Cranley said Tuesday that it's unlikely that the new council would consider a new deal that would lease out the parking system to a private firm – one that a majority of council would see as a better long-term deal for the city.
“It’s possible, but not likely,’’ Cranley said. The parking system, he said, should and will remain under public control.
The parking meter system, Cranley said, “needs to be modernized. We need to have the ability to pay by credit card at every meter in the city. Who carries around a bunch of quarters in their pockets any more?”
The city could upgrade the system itself, or contract out some of the work on a limited basis.
“We don’t have to sell out one of the city’s assets to do that,’’ Cranley said.
Council member-elect David Mann, who drafted the letter sent to Brunner, said at the press conference, “it is highly important that the mayor, the council and the Port Authority work together and be on the same page.”
The current council approved the deal in March as an emergency ordinance. The Port Authority was given the job of working out a deal with the private companies and issuing the bonds to pay the city its up-front money.
A group of citizens collected enough signatures to place a referendum on the November 5 ballot to repeal the ordinance. But the court ruled that ordinances passed as emergency ordinances were not subject to referendum.
But Cranley made opposition to the lease one of the centerpiece issues in the mayor’s race, which he won last week by 16 percentage points over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a supporter of the parking lease.
In addition to Cranley and Mann, the letter was signed by two newly-elected council members, Kevin Flynn and Amy Murray; and incumbents Christopher Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Chris Seelbach.
Murray, Smitherman, and Sittenfeld, along with Mann, were at Cranley and Brunner’s side as the decision to halt the project was announced.
“I look forward to working with the Port Authority,’’ said Murray, a Republican who helped organize the referendum petition drive. “Our parking system is a valuable asset. We need to think about ways of maximizing it for the city.”