A plan to lower municipal parking-ramp fees for new Downtown businesses has drawn fire from several City Councilmembers who think the city would tinker with the free market while contradicting its own stated goal of pushing public transit.
The "Occupancy 2002 Program" would reduce parking fees over three years for new Downtown businesses moving from outside Minneapolis. Qualifying new businesses would get parking fees reduced 40 percent in the first year, then see that discounted rate rise 30 percent in each of the next two years.
The plan would target three city-owned ramps -- the Gateway ramp, 400 S. 3rd St.; the Government Center ramp, 1415 S. 5th St.; and the Centre Village ramp, 700 5th Ave. S.
The plan was proposed by the city's Public Works Department staff and approved by the council's Transportation and Public Works committee. However, on Sept. 13, the full City Council sent it back to committee, saying it needs more work.
Proponents said the plan could help attract new businesses Downtown when a stagnant economy has left office vacancies high. With fewer office tenants Downtown, the city earns less from what Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) described as its "parking ramp empire."
Councilmember Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) sits on the Transportation and Public Works Committee and voted to approve the move. "I think this is one thing that's worth trying to encourage businesses to locate down here," he said.
Goodman, however, asked the council to shoot down the initiative. She complained that launching incentives in just three ramps would represent favoritism toward new businesses that happen to be locating near particular ramps.
"It's like driving a tenant to one building over another," Goodman said.
Businesses already located Downtown would not get the rate cuts, nor would the 400 or so Downtown residents for whom the Gateway municipal ramp is the only parking space available, Goodman said.
A better plan to fill up spaces would be an across-the-board parking-ramp fee cut, she said.
Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) said he was confused that Public Works is offering to help fill Downtown office space, a role he said is better left to the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA). He also said that by offering incentives to fill ramps with cars, the city would contradict its public transit goals.
"We don't need to entice people with cheap parking rates, because that's going to be a false reality down the road," Niziolek said. "It's not the thing that we want to use to entice people Downtown."