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Covington Hopes for Progress on Downtown Garage, Explores More Meters and Increased Rates

Several notable items were discussed Wednesday morning during Covington's parking authority board meeting including an update on a 700-car parking garage development near Duveneck Square and increasing parking meter rates and enforcement throughout the city. 

Currently, the property upon which the Duveneck Square garage will be built is owned by Bellwether Enterprise, which plans to construct the garage itself. Originally, the site was going to be completely developed by Bellwether including infrastructure and the garage, which Covington was going to purchase and manage. Now, Covington is in negotiations to purchase the land and the plans for the garage from Bellwether, hoping to get the construction process started sooner than the developer appears to be moving. 

Currently, the land is a surface parking lot surrounded by Eighth, Washington, and Pike streets, and the railroad. The second phase of Duveneck Square, named for the famed Covington-born artist of the nineteenth century, includes additional buildings as well. The first phase was the new apartment community on the west side of Washington and north side of Eighth.

Covington City Manager David Johnston told the board that phase II of the Duveneck Square project was currently being held up by Bellwether Enterprise, and expressed nearby businesses' desire to have more parking in the area - citing the city's economic development being inundated with calls for more parking in the area before businesses move in. Johnston explained that he had submitted questions to the developers to gain clarification on points of the sale, but after a month of waiting was told someone would get back to him. 

"If the development is important to [Bellwether], then I would imagine they would work on two fronts - the city's economic development team to help with the development of the project, and the parking authority board to get this garage constructed; which I understand is very important to the development they are proposing," Johnston said. "The city is ready to get started on the Duveneck Square project." 

Johnston expressed understanding towards hurdles the developer might be facing due to COVID-19 and the fluidity of the market used to acquire capital for projects like this. However, he also expressed an eagerness to get the project completed. 

"Acquiring capital for developments can be tricky, sometimes it's easier to get money for residential, sometimes commercial," Johnston said, speculating on what Bellwether might be facing. "But all developments need parking, and we have companies calling our economic development team saying they would like to open a business in that area but there isn't enough parking." 

Jack Monts de Oca, operational manager of ABM, which currently manages much of the parking in the city center, said that a garage of this size takes approximately 18 months to complete, and Johnston stated that he believes the project is more likely to happen than not.  

The board also discussed parking meters in Covington to address its revenue stream used for managing parking assets. 

In 2019, the parking authority board removed its budget from the city's general fund which requires the board to generate revenue in order to perform and improve assets under the board's jurisdiction. During the meeting, Monts de Oca offered an example of a cast iron pipe bursting in a garage, spilling rusty brown-colored water on a brand new car to explain the importance of his recommended upgrades. 

Since the parking authority is self-insured, it had to pay to have the car repainted - and while replacing these pipes in other garages with PVC cost approximately $10,000, the cost of repainting the car was approximately one-third of that price. Monts de Oca also stated that property damage isn't his only concern, describing these pipes as ticking time-bombs that can pose a serious threat to customers using the garages.

When the parking authority board split its funds from the city's general fund, it contracted the firm Walker Consultants that advised the board to focus on the quality and management of its current assets. To generate the revenue needed to adhere to these guidelines, the board discussed three items involving parking meters throughout the city. 

The first was to raise parking meter rates by 25-50 cents per hour, which Johnston said haven't even been evaluated or adjusted since before 2015. Monts de Oca suggested phasing in higher rates, while board member John Steinman said he believed the board shouldn't be timid about the increase and should jump to 50 cents. The current parking meter rate is $1.10 per hour. 

The second discussion involving parking meters revolved around expanding hours and days in which the meters are enforced. The board discussed the possibility of expanding the hours of the meters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Moreover, the board discussed including Saturday as an enforceable day. Currently the meters aren't enforced on Saturday or Sunday. 

Lastly, Johnston said the board is considering implementing meters along streets in Mainstrasse Village - Covington's only entertainment district of three that offers free street parking. 

Johnston explained that he does not like to compare Covington to Cincinnati, but if we were to compare the two, Cincinnati has parking meter rates as high as $2.75 per hour in its entertainment districts and enforces its meters all day, six-days a week, and starting at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Monts de Oca, of ABM, said that he doesn't believe Cincinnati has a parking meter rate below $2 per hour. 

Monts de Oca also estimated that these practices could generate an additional $200,000 net per year for the parking authority. He also estimates raising parking garage rates would generate an additional $50,000 per year. 

"We are looking to incorporate new technology and services for customers, but that takes resources," Johnston said. "The board has established a reserve of about $300,000 for emergencies, but those funds could be easily exhausted on just the maintenance of our current system, leaving us with nothing for the unforeseen. The parking authority is taking this responsibility very seriously and the board wants to make sure that we have the resources to continue providing great experiences for customers."

Written by Connor Wall, associate editor

Photo: Parking lot in Covington, part of which would house the planned parking garage (RCN)

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