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Ominous, divisive line

Downtown Newsmagazine draws a line as ominous and divisive as Woodward Ave. in suggesting that downtown property owners and businesses “have already paid their fair share” for parking and should not contribute to repairs, maintenance or expansion of the system ( Let Triangle District pay for parking costs/June 2021).

“Be on the alert,” it warns. “Factions” are considering a “raid” to “siphon” money in a “cash grab.”

Be on the alert, yes, but for self-interest, transparent rhetoric, and the omission of relevant facts and perspective.  

You can reasonably infer that the “faction” to which Downtown refers is the Birmingham City Commission, which, after clearing up some long-standing misconceptions about the parking system, voted 7-0 May 24 to study action that would assure its long-term success. (I am a member of the commission, but I speak only for myself here.) 

The city’s Parking Enterprise Fund, while restricted to use for parking, is neither restricted to use in the downtown nor merely “dedicated for future parking deck repairs,” as Downtown misleadingly stated. Credit City Attorney Mary Kucharek for clarifying that, along with the fact that downtown property owners legally may be assessed — though they never have been — for repairs and maintenance. 

Downtown did get this right: City Manager Tom Markus estimates the system is due for roughly $12 million in repairs in the coming years. And with any expansion costing $30,000 or more per space, an $18 million fund balance won’t go very far. Downtown’s assertion that property owners “have already paid their fair share” is arguable. You decide: Did the relatively small contributions decades ago by the owners of one-story, low-density buildings adequately cover the cost of parking for the four- and five-story, high-density buildings that replaced them and stressed our system, pre-COVID, to the breaking point? 

As we emerge from the pandemic and gain a better understanding of needs, good stewardship demands a thorough understanding of our resources and options. 

Some additional perspective: The 2040 Plan draft envisions a “Maple and Woodward” district that spans big Woodward along Maple, and a “Haynes Square” that spans big Woodward south of Haynes.

Significant residential development is likely to occur in both; two projects comprising more than 400 new units are already in the works. That’s a lot of new consumers for Downtown and its advertisers. Reimagining downtown and putting more feet on the street crossing Woodward would help diminish the divisiveness of Woodward and strengthen our city. Parking is only part of the equation, but the bottom line would benefit residents and businesses on both sides of the divide. 

Clinton Baller


(Publisher's note: The editorial did not say or suggest that downtown property owners should never be assessed for repairs or expansion of the current system, only that they should not be assessed for parking structures on the other side of Woodward Ave in the Triangle District.)


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