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Downtown Fort Worth TIF board extends two free parking leases

 

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

The Downtown Fort Worth tax increment finance district board voted Thursday to approve short-term extensions for two leases that allow free night and weekend parking for visitors to restaurants, shops and entertainment venues, while it continues to examine best uses for the tax dollars the TIF is generating as it enters its final 10 years of life.

The board voted unanimously to extend the lease at the City Center Sundance Square garages on Jones and Commerce streets for 90 days and 777 Main St. garage for 60 days. The property owners had requested those terms.

The TIF pays for free parking at seven downtown garages. It has a $100 million cap and has a projected $30 million in unencumbered funds expected to be generated in the next 10 years. The TIF board is debating the best uses for the money as the garage leases expire over the next several years.

“The TIF has an end,” City Council member Ann Zadeh, a TIF board member, said. “We won’t be able to do it (free parking) once the TIF comes to an end.

“It’s our duty to look at the funds available, which are taxpayer dollars, to make sure we’re using them effectively.”

Jim Johnson, a Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. staffer and TIF administrator, said the board’s discussion will include the question “is the TIF the right tool?” to continue free parking downtown.

"We got it started, we got it going, now what?" he said in an interview.

The TIF has paid for free parking downtown for 15 years. So far, it’s paid $33 million, and has committed another $17 million for free parking.

Representatives of arts organizations and downtown businesses filled a conference room in the City Hall Annex downtown for the TIF board meeting.

“What other assets could be created (by the TIF) that would have the same appeal with the public?” Dione Kennedy, CEO of Bass Performance Hall, told the board.

“The public has many, many choices” for its entertainment dollar, and “we have an exciting…downtown with easy access,” she said.

A diminution of free parking would be a “detriment” to downtown and its continued development of new audiences, she said.

The two parking leases expire Sept. 1.

The TIF pays for 120 free spaces in the Sundance Square garages for Bass Hall event staff, and 1,000 free night and weekend spaces for the general public. The monthly rate for the lease extension will be $4,618.12.

The TIF pays for 700 free spaces for Bass Hall patrons in the 777 Main garage. The monthly rate for the lease extension is $31,905.88.

Sundance and 777 Main’s Cousins Properties have said they want to extend the free parking leases on longer terms.

Barry Lohr, director of parking services for Sundance Square, estimates 400,000 vehicles park free a year under the TIF, which generates money for downtown improvements based on growth in the tax base in the district.

“We have worked for 30 years to not give someone an excuse to not come downtown,” he told the board.

David Ahearn, a partner in the Four Day Weekend comedy club downtown, told the board that free parking is what differentiates downtown Fort Worth from Dallas.

“You come downtown, you park once, and you can walk anywhere,” he said.

One board member asked Bill Thornton, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce president who was in attendance at the meeting, whether the chamber had a position.

The chamber has none, Thornton said.

“We encourage prudent action on your part as we study the situation,” he said.

The temporary extensions won’t trigger action by Tarrant County on its downtown parking lease with the TIF. The county recently extended its lease for several years on favorable terms to the TIF. The lease contains a provision that the county would receive the same terms if the TIF negotiates a better lease renewal with any of the other garages.

The Sundance lease extension won’t trigger the provision, and the 777 Main extension would, but the county has agreed not to exercise its rights, Johnson said.

The renewed Tarrant County lease allows 250 public spaces at night and on weekends and will cost the TIF $25,000 this year. It expires Jan. 31, 2018. TIF board members at a meeting a week ago asked Johnson to look into whether the other garage leases could be renewed at the same terms as the county lease.

The Tower lease allows 300 public spaces at night and on weekends and 300 public daytime spaces Monday-Friday, will cost the TIF $949,380 this year and expires Dec. 31, 2016.

The City Place lease allows 500 public spaces at night and on weekends and 100 daytime spaces for downtown library and certain retail patrons, will cost the TIF $1 million this year and expires Dec. 31, 2018.

The Chase Bank lease allows public parking in available spaces at night and on weekends and 64 daytime spaces for library patrons, will cost the TIF $642,000 this year and expires Dec. 31, 2018.

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