Tom Friery, former treasurer for the city of Sacramento, is a member of the Think Big Sacramento committee.

Viewpoints: Parking partnership can boost arena efforts

Published: Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 - 11:53 am

I spent last weekend in Indianapolis, where I attended my 26th NFL Super Bowl. It was a tremendous experience, one of the most exciting Super Bowls that I've seen.

And while Super Bowl Sunday highlights the economic impact of professional sports, Indianapolis has many lessons for Sacramento that go far beyond the gridiron.

Indianapolis is a successful example of the parking public-private partnership – "P4" – which has emerged as the key piece of the arena financing plan in Sacramento. As I saw firsthand Indianapolis' parking system, one of the most efficient I have used, I asked myself: Can Sacramento successfully do what Indianapolis has done?

Twelve months ago, it seemed unlikely. I could not have imagined that we would be finalizing a plan to build a new entertainment and sports complex, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of development, without impacting the general fund or creating new taxes for the city or the region.

And yet, that is exactly where Sacramento finds itself today.

On Tuesday, the mayor and City Council get an update on plans for the entertainment and sports complex. They will hear how the city is closing in on a viable financing plan that will protect taxpayers while ensuring a strong return on the public's investment through jobs and economic development.

The parking public-private partnership opportunity is the key. In simple terms, the city would sign a fixed-term lease for its parking system with a private operator in exchange for a large upfront payment.

A well-conceived P4 would offer many benefits.

First, it represents an economically and fiscally sound way to "grow the pie." Some cities have pursued P4s to fill one-time budget gaps. In contrast, Sacramento would leverage one underutilized public asset – our downtown parking facilities – to make a long-term investment in another public asset: the new complex. Best of all, the two assets would work in tandem to revitalize downtown, create jobs and jump-start our economy.

Second, the parking public-private partnership would ensure that city residents don't carry the full burden of financing the entertainment and sports complex. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments estimates that 63 percent of people who work in Sacramento live outside city limits. That means two-thirds of any parking dollars effectively used to finance the entertainment and sports complex will come from the greater Sacramento region.

Third, the parking public-private partnership aligns with the city's ongoing efforts to restructure non-core city services. For years, the city has already been partnering with private firms to operate parking facilities. Several municipalities throughout the state and country, including Sacramento County, have similar arrangements. With the city struggling to maintain core services like police and fire, the P4 could help shift the burden of parking operations to the private sector, including several costly repairs and upgrades on the horizon.

Finally, a parking public-private partnership could improve everyone's parking experience. It is no secret that parking downtown can be a challenge. Many downtown meters still require coins – which I never seem to have on hand. Parking spaces are hard to find during the day and facilities are difficult to navigate. Fortunately, new innovations are making it easier to park. Imagine refilling your meter using your phone, or locating an open parking space without circling for what seems like an eternity. The right P4 partner will enhance our parking experience – improving conditions not only for residents, but also for neighboring businesses which suffer when bad parking experiences drive customers away.

The parking public-private partnership will be no small task. But let's not forget the alternative.

If we stop now, we'll lose another major employer in the Sacramento Kings, who will take 800 to 1,200 quality jobs and $100 million in annual economic impact somewhere else. Power Balance Pavilion will further erode, as even fewer events bring their economic and cultural benefits to our community. Our community, simply put, will be devastated.

We have the power to choose a different path.

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