There’s no such thing as too much parking in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to current public policy in this city, every problem we have can be solved with a one-size-fits-all answer: taxpayers pay for more garages. Taxpayers paying for more garages will result in more jobs. More jobs will generate more income-tax revenue to pay for basic services to fill our pot holes and hire more police which will make middle class homeowners happy “customers” (that’s what the City Manager calls us these days). More jobs will apparently alleviate poverty, reverse our absurdly high incarceration rates, stop violence and get people off drugs.
Since we are making these infrastructure investments as fast as we can – and they are very expensive – it behooves us to become garage literate, Citizens.
Western & Southern’s Queen City Square figures are inflated due to the fact that I did not try to back out non-garage costs from the total $65,000,000 Tax Increment Financing package. We didn’t just get garage space. We purchased a multi-storied pedestrian promenade, two giant escalators, a plaza and quite a bit of ground level retail for our money. It’s a pretty sophisticated set-up and Eagle Realty probably did a very decent job of holding garage costs to within 10-15% of the national average.
Of course, Oakley Station’s $6,200,000 structure hasn’t broken ground yet. We can see that our development professionals must have used the same national average costs for garage construction I did for their projections. New construction always costs more than we think it will and this project will probably be no different. Let’s just hope it comes in close.
That leaves the mysterious dunnhumby, now known as 84.51, a 3CDC public-private partnership with Kroger’s latest acquisition. I contacted Anastasia Mileham, VP of Communications, five times over the past three months asking for a clarification on why construction costs were so high. At dunnhumby taxpayers bought 1,003 spaces for somewhere between $60,000,000 and $70,000,000. (The figure tended to float a bit as we talked.) She explained that only the top four floors of the 9 story structure are currently needed for offices, but they anticipate significant growth and it was decided to build the lower floors so that they could someday be converted. Ramp design was complicated, ceiling height had to be 12 feet as opposed to the normal 10, and two floors of the garage were built below ground.
Call me annoying – but that didn’t seem an adequate explanation for costs more than three times the national average. So I did what I always do – kept asking questions. I asked super-smart staff members of City Council. I mentioned my concerns to other developer friends. I even called Robert Bertsch, Sr. (otherwise known as Bob), the guy who is in charge of development projects for this area of town in city administration. He called me back within 5 minutes, was funny and charming and forthcoming. But he couldn’t tell me why the project cost so much more than anticipated when Council approved the deal in June of 2012. (They voted on $88 million. It came in around $140 million.) “You’ll have to ask 3CDC,” he said.
So I sent my little-Kathy charts to Anastasia and explained why I was confused. More than 2,200 spaces at Queen City Square cost us about the same as 1,003 at dunnhumby. I told her I would have to start to ask publicly why this building cost so much for us to build. And I heard nothing.
I hate to write this post. Because I’m a 3CDC fan. I think they’ve done about as good a job as is humanly possible in Over-the-Rhine and on Fountain Square. But since City Hall clearly intends to use 3CDC as their preferred developer on parking garages in the city center and we are building them as fast as we can, it’s important that we honestly evaluate our garage-outcomes.