Cincinnati city officials announced last week that the more than 4,000 smart parking meters that have been installed throughout the city are now functioning in coordination with a new mobile app payment system.
The announcement fulfills a long-held desire for motorists looking for more convenient ways to pay parking meter fees.
It is expected that such technology will help reduce the amount of tickets that are dolled out since drivers will now be able to refill their meter from anywhere, simply by using their phone. Those without smartphones capable of operating the PassportParking app will also be able to use their phones to reload meters by visiting http://m.ppprk.com, or by calling 513-253-0493.
“This enhancement is part of the City’s ongoing parking modernization plan to improve the quality and efficiency of the City parking system,” officials stated in a prepared release. “In accordance with these efforts parking rates were adjusted earlier this year, and motorists saw the introduction of prepay and extended hours.”
While the new technology will make payments easier and more convenient, it does not help motorists locate available on-street parking spaces, or utilize dynamic pricing that would encourage those looking for a parking space to navigate toward a lesser used area.
While dynamic pricing has been mentioned as a future possibility by both Mayor John Cranley (D) and City Manager Harry Black, it has not yet been made clear when that will take place.
“Pay-by-phone parking is representative of what we are doing across our organization. We are using technology to enhance services we offer our residents and visitors,” said City Manager Black. “This technology won’t replace more traditional means of paying to park at a meter, but it gives people a new, convenient option that makes visiting Downtown or business districts across Cincinnati easier.”
The mobile payment app, which charges a 25-cent convenience fee, will only work for on-street parking meters and kiosks – not off-street lots or garages. In order to properly use the system, drivers will be asked to input the zone, along with the meter number, into the application so that the payment can be traced to that particular space, and thus monitored by parking enforcement officers.
All of this comes after the contentious cancellation of the parking lease agreement put into place by Mark Mallory‘s administration in 2013.
Under that agreement, the City would have leased its on-street parking meters, along with a number of garages and lots, to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which then was to enter into operation agreement with Xerox. In return, the City would have received a large upfront payment, along with guaranteed annual payments.
The new structure maintains more control at City Hall, but it misses on the upfront capital, along with the guaranteed payments.
Instead, the City takes on the risk of meeting revenue projections and keeping operation and maintenance costs within their targets. One thing that remains the same is the presence of Xerox, although their role appears to have been greatly diminished from what it would have been under the Mallory administration deal.
So far the response to the new parking meters and payment functionality has been positive, although some neighborhood business districts, where the meters are arriving for the first time, have experienced some temporary glitches with pricing and hours of operation programmed into the meter.
Neighborhood leaders in Pleasant Ridge say the community has been meticulously studying and developing ideas for how to improve the business district for more than a decade. Research on demographics, assessments of existing conditions, and visioning sessions have all been conducted over the years. This work has resulted in numerous planning documents that neighborhood activists today believe create a strong foundation for future success.
A neighborhood resident for the better part of the past seven years, Chamlee is also part of the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority’s real estate team and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Masters of Community Planning program. Almost by definition, he would appear to be just the kind of person you would want to have steering a community development corporation like PRDC.
“We’re trying to stimulate development in the neighborhood as we can,” Chamlee explained to UrbanCincy. “Pleasant Ridge is kind of an untapped market in terms of clusters of neighborhoods since it is geographically near so much.”
One of the problems, he notes, is that I-71 and the big box developments to the south often serve as a physical or, even worse, mental barrier for people not familiar with the neighborhood. Unlike Oakley Station and Center of Cincinnati, the Pleasant Ridge business district, primarily organized along Montgomery Road, has a distinctive historic character to it that is only moderately marred by late 20th century planning failures.
Therefore, one of the primary goals of Pleasant Ridge is to rebuild and reinforce that character. Sixty99 is the first project that will help PRDC move in that direction, but Chamlee is quick to explain how it is only the beginning.
“We believe that there is a lot of demand for this kind of business district,” said Chamlee. “There is a good opportunity to appeal to those suburbanites that want an urban experience, but might not want to head all the way to Over-the-Rhine or Mainstrasse.”
The hope is that Pleasant Ridge can become an in-town neighborhood with a walkable neighborhood business district that boasts appealing restaurants and shopping. It is not that the community wants to be a regional draw, but rather start drawing from a slightly larger zone than it does now. Based on the community’s demographic analysis, significant opportunities lie within nearby neighborhoods like Amberely Village, Kennedy Heights, Norwood and Silverton.
One of the sites the neighborhood has its sights set on is the triangle-shaped block bounded by Ridge, Montgomery and Woodford. The site sits right in the heart of the district and is currently occupied by two one-story buildings, a gas station, and several parking lots. Sitting directly across the street from Sixty99 and Nine Giant Brewing, the hope is that the site could be redeveloped with three to five story buildings that include new street-level commercial spaces.
But Chamlee says that before they get started on pumping new commercial space into the business district, they are working to fill out and improve what is already there. To that end, he mentioned two new businesses that will be opening in the coming months. The first is a cocktail-type restaurant and bar that will feature smaller plates and be located in the former VFW Hall. The second is a coffee shop and lunch restaurant geared toward families that is called Red Balloon Play Café + Play.
Beyond that, Chamlee says PRDC is working with building owners to help fill the three remaining spaces at Sixty99 and reimagine what they consider to be underutilized properties.
“We have found that the people that are really interested [in opening businesses] are the people that are already here and have been here,” Chamlee explained. “A lot of what is happening is from people already here who really believe in the neighborhood and are doubling down. We’re only just starting to get the attention of some outsiders.”
While Pleasant Ridge boasts a relatively stable residential base, there may be a significant opportunity should the neighboring Losantiville Country Club ever be sold off and redeveloped. The neighborhood’s 2007 vision study looked at exactly that possibility and found that the site would be ideal for walkable residential infill.
According to Chamlee, the focus on walkability is critical; and implementing a form-based code for the neighborhood would be an effective tool to help make that a reality.
“We know what we want and we know what we need,” Chamlee said in reference to the past planning exercises. “We just need to get some more momentum and find the right partners to help execute it.
Hamilton County’s former Queensgate Correctional Facility is currently on the market. The historic warehouse building has sat vacant since the jail operation was shut down six years ago. The site sits close to the Central Business District and the building evidently has tremendous views of the downtown skyline and Ohio River. A buyer has not yet been identified, so it is unclear as to what the future holds for the 152,000-square-foot complex…so what would you like to see in its place? More from the Business Courier:
The Queensgate Correctional Facility closed in 2008 due to budget cuts. It housed low- and medium-security prisoners. It sits directly west of the former Hudepohl brewery property, which the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority purchased for $650,000 in May. The Port Authority is still working on a plan for repositioning that property. The former jail property includes five buildings. The largest is an eight-story, more than 128,000-square-foot building that served as the jail. The smaller buildings served as staff services space, administration space and a recreation building.
…the property has only been on the market a few weeks and he’s already had interest from a couple developers. The building could be redeveloped as residential space, used as warehouse space, or it could potentially be used as a jail again if the county is interested in reopening it.
As has been widely reported thus far, the budget proposed by Mayor Cranley’s Administration is not as bad as many had expected it would be. That is, the administration’s proposal that is predicated on a massive reduction in required pension contributions is not that bad.
Should the proposed reduction to 14% in pension contributions not be accepted by a federal court, then all bets are off as to where this budget will actually go, since the vast majority of its balancing comes from that assumption. This is a major assumption, and one that will not be clarified until later this summer.
One of Cranley’s interesting moves relates to the Focus 52 program, established under Mayor Mallory’s Administration, that targeted funds for economic development projects throughout every city neighborhood. The fund relied, in part, on $3,000,000 in casino revenues to pay for its capital projects, which oddly enough were included in the Operating Budget in prior years.
The proposed budget shifts these Focus 52 projects from the Operating Budget to the Capital Budget, but the $3,000,000 in funding does not move along with them. As a result, the $3,000,000 is being used to help balance the Operating Budget, thus eliminating funding for all Focus 52 capital projects, or requiring cuts elsewhere in the Capital Budget to cover the costs.
The clever ledger shift allows Cranley to essentially eliminate the Focus 52 program without a special hearing process, and thus free up $3,000,000 annually for the Operating Budget that would have otherwise gone to support these neighborhood economic development projects.
The City will have its first public hearings on the budget proposal starting tomorrow. For those of you who care about urbanism, UrbanCincy’s editorial team has gone through every page of Cranley’s budget proposal and identified the following major items of concern:
Public Safety (police and fire) would consume 65.8% of the Operating Budget. While consuming two-thirds of the Operating Budget, only one-third of the City’s overall staffing would be made up of Public Safety personnel.
Since the year 2000, Public Safety will have seen its personnel levels decrease by 4% (87 FTE), while all other departments will have collectively seen their personnel decrease by 17.7% (803 FTE).
The City of Cincinnati would not repay $2,000,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars to Cincinnati Public Schools as previously agreed.
The Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS), which is a shared technology and mapping service between the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, would see its funding reduced by $335,560, bringing its total funding down to $4,448,000.
An additional $279,100 would be allocated to repair an estimated 8,000 potholes. This money would come at the expense of $154,100 in funding previously programmed for solar trash receptacles/compactors and $125,000 for a customs house at Lunken Airfield.
Even though the Department of Planning & Buildings generates more in revenues than it has in expenses, and has won national accolades the last two years, it would see its Neighborhood Studies fund completed eliminated ($81,700).
The Bicycle Transportation Program would be completely modified to only include funding and staff time for off-road trails, and eliminate all funding and staff resources for the development of any bike lanes, sharrows, bike racks or other on-street bike facilities.
While this budget proposal may technically be “structurally balanced”, it does so by craftily moving budget items around from one ledger to the other, defunding programs that either generate or save money over the long-term, and overly relying on what could be considered this year’s one-time budget fix – a reduction to 14% pension contribution that would equate to $7,100,000 in savings annually.
The City should fulfill its payment obligations to Cincinnati Public Schools, fully fund all aspects of its revenue generating Department of Planning & Buildings, renew the Bicycle Transportation Program to its originally intended goals established through an extensive public engagement process, restore funding to CAGIS and the Office of Environment & Sustainability, return the funds programmed for solar trash receptacles/compactors, and shift the funding associated with Focus 52 capital projects to the Capital Budget along with the projects.
Outside of this budget process, the City should also move forward with a comprehensive effort to fix its outdated fleet of vehicles, provide a stable and substantial revenue stream for the Port Authority and balance its budget in a way that does not create a police state.
The clever maneuvers demonstrated in Cranley’s first budget proposal show ingenuity, but UrbanCincy would prefer seeing that ingenuity being used to solve the actual problems present instead of relying on financing tricks.
We are continuing to look at opportunities inside City Hall that could help alleviate Cincinnati’s budget and pension liabilities, while also maintaining and improving service delivery.
In addition to the waste collection reforms that include a shift to a Pay As You Throw system, we will be making other specific policy recommendations that we feel will improve the quality of service delivery while also improving the City’s finances – ultimately working toward a long-term, structurally balanced budget.
As a result, we recommended a seven-year lease of all 5,700 of the city’s on-street parking meters. We estimated that such a deal could yield just over $3 million in annual payments, while also ridding the city of the associated financial liabilities. We did not estimate what an upfront payment could be due to the infinite number of variables that could affect that.
While much has changed politically since that time, the facts remain the same. Cincinnati’s parking system is broken, and is in need of immediate upgrades and reforms.
The Port then agreed to work with Xerox to manage the system and implement comprehensive upgrades to the deteriorating and outdated system. This would have included electronic parking meters that accept credit cards, real-time parking availability data systems and the rehabilitation of existing lots and garages.
The deal would have also provided the City of Cincinnati with an upfront payment of $85 million, generated approximately $3 million in annual installment payments over the life of the agreement, and guaranteed approximately $98 million in capital investments into the system. For better or worse, that agreement has been jeopardized and we are essentially back at square one.
So where and what exactly is square one?
The City has been experiencing declining revenues from its parking assets for several years now. Revenue collections peaked years ago, but have been declining recently due to inadequate enforcement and the parking system’s poor state of repair. These assets require constant and expensive maintenance and upgrades, so virtually all of the money generated by the Parking System is spent maintaining the Parking System.
This is important. The Parking System does not generate any excess revenue for the city to use on other basic services.
In most years the Parking System is revenue neutral, meaning that the revenues it generates cover its expenses. This is acceptable, unless you are deferring maintenance costs in order to make the numbers match. This has been the case in Cincinnati for years, and has left the Parking System in terrible condition.
The situation has gotten worse in recent years as council has worked to balance the budget without laying off employees. In both 2010 and 2011, the city spent considerably more on the Parking System than it collected in an effort to keep it up to snuff. We are talking $3.6 million more in 2010 and $1.1 million more in 2011. This stopped in 2012 when the city cut its annual investments in the Parking System by several million dollars.
For reference, investments in the Parking System today are approximately 38% lower than they were when the City invested $13.3 million into the Parking System in 2010. Over that same period, the parking fund balance has dropped from $12.5 million to $7.8 million.
Simply put: revenues are down, maintenance is being deferred and the parking fund is being depleted. This is not sustainable.
The recent proposal from the Cranley Administration, which was immediately and thoroughly rejected by just about everyone except five council members, does not address what the problems are, and therefore does not propose appropriate solutions for those problems.
The situation and trajectory is dire and UrbanCincy recommends that the City of Cincinnati move forward with upgrades to its Parking System immediately. Absent the previously agreed upon Parking Lease & Modernization deal or some other public-private partnership; here is how we suggest doing so:
Issue bonds to upgrade all parking meters in the city to use the latest electronic payment collection and occupancy tracking technology. This would include pay-by-phone capabilities.
Utilize the new technology to implement variable pricing structures that reflect real-time market demand. If there is a Bengals game downtown and meters near the stadium are packed, then the rates on those meters would increase, while meters further away would maintain lower rates. In neighborhood business districts the same would be true. When demand is high so should be prices. When demand is low, prices should drop accordingly to make it a more attractive option for those visiting our neighborhood business districts.
Release a new application, website and text alert system that notifies drivers of parking space availability and informs them of the associated rates.
Sell the city-owned parking lot at Third Street and Central Avenue so that it can be repurposed into a tax-producing property.
Create a special lease agreement for city-owned parking garages and lots, so that the separate authority could manage advertising at these locations. The Ohio Revised Code currently does not grant cities authority to sell advertising in such a manner, but not allowing for advertisements is unnecessarily cutting off much-needed revenue. Let’s get creative so that we can maximize revenues without burdening our residents, businesses or visitors.
Tear down the Garfield Garage, which is in greatest need of repair, and market the site to developers interested in building on it. Such a development agreement could include the provision of the same or greater number of parking spaces to be replaced – similar to the deal signed for the new residential tower to be built at Fourth and Race Streets in the place of the Pogue’s Garage. This will free the city from a major capital expense that would further deplete the parking fund in the near future.
Tear down the Seventh & Sycamore Garage, which is the only thing blocking the construction of a $14.2 million, 115-room hotel and 725-space garage from being built in its place. The existing 450-space garage is also in poor condition and its removal would be another major liability coming off the City’s books.
Conduct a citywide study to determine appropriate adjustments to the hours of operation for on-street parking meters on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level.
Following through on these eight recommendations will allow the city to maintain ownership and control of its Parking System while also allowing it to make the necessary upgrades and improve the balance sheets for this portion of the budget. These changes will make the Parking System a revenue generating asset not just in rhetoric, but in reality.
The increased revenues will allow for the City to replenish the parking fund, make its upgrades and take additional revenue and use it to support other essential but non-revenue generating public services.