Every day on my way to work and on many weekends as well, I pass by the Will Rogers Memorial Center. From my abode off Montgomery Street, cutting through the complex on Gendy Street shortens my trip to the office.
As I travel through, I can tell whether there is a big event at the city-owned public meetings center by seeing how full the parking lots are. There are about 5,500 parking spaces in and around Will Rogers, including a huge 12-acre lot off Harley Avenue. Rarely is that lot even a quarter full. Sometimes a gun show will pull in a lot of patrons, but even then, the lots around the WRMC almost always still have spaces available.
Of course, they do fill up sometimes during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, but even then it’s only on the five or six weekend days of the three-week run.
During the past year, I’ve watched the construction of a 1,117-space parking garage between the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. When the city approved the building of the garage – paid for with city bond money – the city council heard how there just weren’t enough parking spaces to meet demand at Will Rogers and the $30 million garage would address that need.
And since the city is so cash-strapped, the decision was made to repay the bonds by charging for parking, not just in the new garage, but on all the surface parking and the old underground garage at Will Rogers. All year-round. At $5 to $7 a pop (the city hasn’t yet decided), set to begin sometime in March after the garage is complete.
There has been some outcry in the letters-to-the-editor columns locally from folks who think this is bad idea. Who will pay five bucks or more to go to the community arts center to see work by a local artist or have an $8 lunch at Z’s Café inside the center? Employees at the Amon Carter Museum will also have to pay the fees, at an average cost of about $1,200 annually for these mostly modestly paid workers
The weekend flea markets will undoubtedly lose business. And the city will be charging the unemployed when they come to the center for job fairs.
City officials argue that it is reasonable for users of facilities around the WRMC to help pay for what they say is a much-needed parking structure. But they are keeping a little secret about who will benefit most from the parking garage. That would be the stock show, a nonprofit organization that nonetheless pays some handsome salaries: Stock show president W.R. (Bob) Watt gets an annual salary of $450,000 for organizing the three-week show.
Prior to 2006, the city and the stock show split the revenues from the $6 parking charge levied during the event. But that year, the stock show’s contract with the city was renegotiated, and the stock show now keeps every penny in parking revenue. Their lease runs through 2023, and the fees that come from the parking garage will stay in the hands of the stock show for that whole time.
Carlo Capua, co-owner of Z’s Café, said he and the museums are trying to work out a deal with the city that would allow employees and some patrons to pay less than full freight. “Flat-rate parking fees would have a very negative impact,” he said. “The Fort Worth Community Arts Center has volunteers and children’s theater and starving artists showing their work. Parking fees would penalize all of them.”
Here is my take on all of this. The stock show didn’t like the fact that on some busy days, owners of vacant lots on Montgomery Street would get a little parking revenue. They also didn’t like the fact that they would have to use the University of North Texas Health Science Center parking garage on weekends (where they also keep all the revenue), because the stock show patrons might have to walk a few blocks.
The stock show operators got quite the sweet deal from the city – but it’s not so sweet for a lot of other folks. The stock show honchos not only persuaded the city to build the garage but convinced officials that none of the stock show’s own parking revenue should go to pay for it. Instead, the funding will come from the people who park there during the other 49 weeks of the year.
I’m not saying the city shouldn’t have given some economic incentives to the stock show. But to make the case that more than 1,000 additional parking spaces are needed year-round is deceptive. And to make the museum workers and flea market patrons and the gun buyers pay, and then shovel their money over to the stock show, is worse than deceptive. It is a bad facet of this deal that the city isn’t owning up to.