Downtown TIF board reviewing free parking plan

Scott Nishimura

Directors of Fort Worth’s downtown tax increment finance district are reviewing whether TIF-subsidized free parking is necessary anymore to draw people to downtown restaurants, venues, and shops, as the district enters its final 10 years of life and its leases with parking garages begin to expire .

Board members on Wednesday indicated they were interested in extending two leases set to expire Sept. 1 – 777 Main St., run by Cousins Properties; and City Center, by Sundance Square – for up to 60 days.

The TIF pays for free parking at five garages including City Center – mostly at night and on weekends – and for Bass Hall patrons at 777 Main. TIF directors said they need time to determine whether garages would be interested in renewing at the favorable terms the TIF struck recently with Tarrant County on its garage, what the other potential uses are for the money the TIF is expected to generate for the next 10 years, and how much free usage each of the garages generates. The TIF board will also seek public input.

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The TIF is expected to generate over $30 million in the next 10 years. A TIF is a way in which local governments can publicly finance structural improvements and upgrade infrastructure within a defined area using tax revenue generated by the developments in the district.

Future gains in revenue TIF Chairman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, also the Fort Worth City Council’s mayor pro tem, predicted a strong public response in favor of continued free parking.

“If we’re going to ask someone if they want to continue something that’s free, I’m pretty sure I know what the answer’s going to be,” he said.

At least three board members wanted to know what opportunities the TIF might be losing out on by continuing to pay for subsidized parking.

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“What is this buying us, verses what you could do,” Charles Boswell, a board member and former Fort Worth city manager, said.

Johnny Campbell, a new board member and CEO of Sundance Square, spoke up on behalf of continued free parking throughout downtown, noting he’s barred by ethics rules from being involved in the board’s lease discussions with Sundance.

“We’re not going to be able to develop retail if there isn’t free parking downtown,” he said.

But Campbell also said he believes the TIF “is overpaying for the parking spaces in some cases.” He, like other directors, sought more data.

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None of the garages is required by lease to maintain data on free parking usage, and Sundance Square is the only one that keeps and shares data, Jim Johnson, a Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. staffer and the TIF administrator, said.

“We ought to be sitting here looking at a spreadsheet,” Campbell said.

The 777 Main lease sets aside 700 spaces for Bass Hall patrons seven days a week, and will cost the TIF $501,745 this year.

The City Center lease allows 1,000 public spaces at night and on weekends and another 120 for use of Bass Hall event staff. It will cost the TIF $144,628 this year.

777 Main and City Center are both interested in renewing their leases, Johnson told the TIF board.

The recently renewed Tarrant County lease allows 250 public spaces at night and on weekends and will cost the TIF $25,000 this year. It expires Jan. 31, 2018.

The Tower lease allows 300 public spaces at night and on weekends and 300 public daytime spaces Monday-Friday, will cost the TIF $949,380 this year, and expires Dec. 31, 2016.

The City Place lease allows 500 public spaces at night and on weekends and 100 daytime spaces for downtown library and certain retail patrons, will cost the TIF $1 million this year, and expires Dec. 31, 2018.

The Chase Bank lease allows public parking in available spaces at night and on weekends and 64 daytime spaces for library patrons, will cost the TIF $642,000 this year, and expires Dec. 31, 2018.​