When staffers proposed three years ago that the city build a $30 million, 1,100-space parking garage near the Will Rogers Memorial Center, they emphasized that the area was in dire need of parking, especially on Saturdays when gun shows and the Cattle Barn flea market set up shop. To pay for it, patrons would be charged five bucks year-round — on all the Will Rogers complex surface lots as well as the garage.
But last Saturday, with big crowds in town for a hunters’ exposition, it was clear that the area is now overbuilt for parking: no cars on the top three floors of the seven-floor garage and the Harley Street surface lot only half full. That’s a problem, because the city paid for the garage with revenue bonds, and parking income is supposed to cover bond payments.
Anyone who has cussed the city’s decision to eliminate free parking at Will Rogers — who wants to cruise the museum shops for gifts or stop in at a museum-complex café for lunch when you have to pay $5 for the privilege? — knows that the problem is the parking fee.
What’s the city’s solution? Raise the parking fee to $8. Brilliant!
The city’s bond payment this year is $1.6 million, but parking income will fall short of that figure by $640,000 — a whopping 40 percent. What’s more, those payments increase to $2.3 million by 2014.
What isn’t being mentioned is the role of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo in this financial blunder. Prior to 2006, the stock show organization and the city split the income from $6 parking fees charged only during the rodeo. But that year they renegotiated their lease for the city-owned lots so that the stock show now keeps every penny. Last year, they raised the rate during the stock show to $8. Based on attendance figures, the stock show probably grossed more than $3 million from parking alone.
So what we have here is a parking garage needed only on a few weekends during the show, but with private citizens footing the bill year-round to subsidize the private nonprofit organization. If the stock show gave the city $3 of the $8 they charge, the deficit in the bond payments would be solved without raising fees. But don’t expect that to even be considered. The stock show’s lease with the city runs through 2023.