The owner of the Charlottesville Parking Center has asked the City Council to direct staff to sell the city’s share of the Water Street Parking Garage in order to end the formal partnership between his company and local government.
“As city councilors, you are uniquely empowered to authorize a sensible resolution to this conflict,” Mark Brown wrote in a letter dated April 28.
City officials and Mayor Mike Signer did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce said he is hopeful the two sides can negotiate a solution.
“A positive resolution of the Water Street Garage impasse between the CPC and the city partners is in the best interests of all concerned,” said Timothy Hulbert.
Charlottesville Tomorrow obtained a copy of Brown’s six-page letter that makes several arguments for why the city should agree to the sale. The document recounts the history of the structure, which dates to 1991, when a group was formed to develop the garage.
“The Water Street Development Group was formed to construct the Water Street Garage,” Brown wrote. At the time, he said, the city did not have the funding to purchase property for a garage.
Brown said Jefferson National Bank also became involved to provide further resources to fund the structure. Wells Fargo eventually would acquire their interests.
The CPC bought a two-acre site for the garage and leased it to the group, which eventually became the Water Street Parking Garage Condominium Association. The association operates the garage and pays rent to CPC through a ground lease.
The condo association is governed by an eight-member board of directors and a minimum of six votes is required to set policy under the terms of its bylaws.
“From 1994 to 2015, the city controlled four board seats, CPC controlled two, Wells Fargo controlled one and the retail merchants controlled one,” Brown wrote. “Wells Fargo Bank and the majority of the retail tenants have since sold to CPC, leaving the existing board composed of four city members and four CPC members.”
The association’s board has not met since December, when the two sides deadlocked over rates. Brown filed a lawsuit against the city over the issue, arguing that the city’s request for lower rates at the Water Street Garage was against the CPC’s interests.
“The ground lease arrangement complicates the management of the garage in a manner that results in short-sighted decision making, contributing daily to the downtown parking problem,” Brown wrote.
As one example, Brown cites two studies by the firm Williams Mullen that concluded in 2008 and 2013 that rates at Water Street have been kept below market value. Lower revenues, he argues, have meant CPC and the city have not made enough money to pay for a new parking structure to meet growing demand.
The letter also argues that CPC and the city have not invested in new equipment to allow the garage to be operated more efficiently.
The terms of the ground lease require rents to be reset in July 2024 using a third-party appraisal.
Appraisals conducted as part of the Williams Mullen studies concluded the value of each space went down between 2008 and 2013.
Since purchasing the CPC, Brown has steadily been acquiring both parking and retail space in the garage. In February, he sent a letter of intent to purchase the city’s 629 spaces. The City Council turned it down, according to the lawsuit.
Now Brown has asked the city to reconsider.
“The only realistic way to end the ground lease is for the city to promptly agree to sell its depreciating interest in the Water Street Garage to CPC,” Brown wrote. “CPC as a private owner has the means and incentive to immediately make the investments needed to fully utilize the spaces available in the garage and to better manage the facility.”
For instance, Brown said, managing spaces within the garage more efficiently could allow as many as 400 spaces to be more readily available.
Brown concluded his letter with a list of nine questions, including asking if the Landmark Hotel could be built without securing spaces in the Water Street Garage. Another asked about the city’s attempts to keep historic Court Square intact.
“Will Albemarle County invest $47 million into downtown Charlottesville without improved access to parking?” he asked. “Will they need some portion of the unused 400 spaces?”
George Benford, chairman of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville, said he is hopeful the garage can remain open.
“My only concern is that the Water Street Garage stays open for the many parkers who rely on their parking spaces,” Benford said. “I sincerely hope that both sides take that into consideration. I do believe that one party needs to either buy or sell.”