Parking structure free through end of March
By Lisa Brody
Birmingham's parking structures for both monthly passes and those who just use them as they visit shops, restaurants and businesses, will remain free through March 31, 2020, as the city continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
At its meeting on Monday, December 7, Birmingham city commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the continuation of free parking in all city parking structures. Commissioner Brad Host voted against and commissioner Clinton Baller was absent.
Birmingham Police Commander Scott Grewe said the city had instituted free parking at all five of its parking decks, effective April 1, 2020 as a relief effort to support local businesses and restaurants.
“At the August 5, 2020 Advisory Parking Committee (APC) meeting, the APC recommended that the city continue free parking at all five parking decks through December 31, 2020. On August 24, the city commission agreed with the APC and passed a resolution providing free parking in all its parking decks through December 31, 2020,” Grewe said. “As the end of the year is approaching, the APC again examined the issue of parking in all five parkingdecks at their November 4 meeting. The APC discussed several options and passed a recommendation to extend free parking until the end of March. They noted concerns in lost revenue, reduced store hours, holiday shopping and traditionally low sales in the months of January, February and March as reasons to extend free parking.”
The city's unrestricted parking fund, which is completely funded by monthly parking passes and user fees, without any taxpayer monies, had unrestricted net assets of $20,632,305 as of April 1, 2020 Grewe said. “The parking fund balance as of September 30, 2020 was $19,256,606 – a reduction of $1,375,699.”
During this same time, capital improvement costs, including emergency repairs at the N. Old Woodward structure, cost $1,457,996, greater than the lost income due to free parking.
“This is a great opportunity to help the businesses in the downtown area. For the three months, if this helps the business survive the downturn,” said commissioner Stuart Sherman.
Host objected. “By not having the gates down we don't have the data. It is costing us all money, all the taxpayers.”
Mayor pro tem Therese Longe wondered why cities like Royal Oak and Ferndale haven't made their parking decks free. “I understand there would be a cost to charging a nominal fee.”
Commissioner Mark Nickita clarified that Birmingham has a large business base which neither of those cities have, and much larger retail concerns.
“We have to do whatever it takes to enhance our downtown. Keep in mind the surface parking is still charging. But out downtown is so critical to our entire city, including the residents who don't use the downtown,” Nickita pointed out. “We have $20 million in our bank account for parking. The amount we have lost is not so significant in comparison to what we have gained.”
“We have to understand what the funds are in the parking fund. It is from the monthly parkers, people paying for parking, people using the parking system,” Sherman said. “It is not from taxpayer's money. We are assisting the people who have supported the system. I don't see a downside.”
Mayor Pierre Boutros noted, “We are still going through a very, very difficult time, whether it's retail or office. If we were not okay, it would be maybe we should charge something. But we are doing more than okay, and it's the least we can do for our business community.”