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Let Triangle District pay for parking costs

Business owners and owners of buildings in downtown Birmingham should be on alert – now – for possible attempts by some in city government who would like to figure out a way to assess existing businesses in the established downtown area for a parking structure in the Triangle District, plus possibly raid the existing parking structure fund to help finance an effort across Woodward.


For the benefit of those not completely familiar, the city of Birmingham has been working to spur residential, retail and office development for the area of the city bound by Woodward, East Maple, and Adams Road. To that end the city in 2009 created a seven-member Birmingham Triangle Improvement Authority to address issues, among them parking structures, for the area.


An urban design plan for the Triangle District was developed and as part of that it was proposed that two parking structures be developed, rather than relying on surface parking lots as business and residential development took place. The urban design plan estimated that when the Triangle District is completely built-out, there will be a need for 4,000-4,500 spaces to handle the retail, office and residential parking demand. Potential sites for the parking structures were even identified.


The urban design plan for the Triangle District suggested that a special assessment district be created to fund construction of the parking decks.


The city of Birmingham made an unsuccessful attempt to get Oakland County's approval to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone to generate funds for the structures. A TIF zone would allow a municipality to capture taxes – be it school district, intermediate school district, community college, city, county and other special taxes, like the Detroit Zoo, for example, a financing tactic used since 1952 in all states with the exception of Arizona. But the city's attempt at a TIF ran into changing philosophy of Oakland County officials who were starting to shy away from diverting taxes in this manner.


So not much progress has been made since then, as evidenced by the fact that the Birmingham Triangle Improvement Authority has not even met since January of 2017.


Of late we are hearing more talk of creating an assessment – but not just on business property in the Triangle District. Although nothing official has surfaced just yet, we get the sense that some factions would like to assess the larger tax base of the downtown Birmingham business area to build parking decks on the other side of Woodward.


Put bluntly, existing businesses in the immediate downtown area of Birmingham have already paid their fair share with the assessments levied against building owners in past decades. Those assessments, coupled with revenue bonds, paid off with parking deck user revenues, were part of a proactive plan to allow the downtown to remain strong as strip shopping centers and retail malls, like Somerset, started to appear on the scene decades ago.


If the Triangle District development plan requires parking structures to succeed, then the building owners in that area should pay an assessment. Assessing building owners in the immediate downtown area for a project of questionable value to them makes no sense.


We have the same concern about conversation that is taking place in some quarters about possibly tapping the restricted parking fund from the existing structures in the downtown area – estimated to be around $18 million at this point in time. It's money derived from parking fees and is part of a restricted fund dedicated for future parking deck repairs, which some estimates put at $12 million.


In essence, the reserves built up in the parking fund should remain dedicated to the future costs of the existing parking structures and system. Any attempt to siphon those monies off for the Triangle District is nothing short of an ill-advised cash grab.

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