Mon, January 8, 2007
The developer insists a proposed garage on Queens Avenue "is not going to help."
By JONATHAN SHER, FREE PRESS CITY HALL REPORTER
You might think a city hall proposal to spend millions to build parking garages in the core would be backed by downtown's biggest property owner.
After all, it was Shmuel Farhi, owner of more than 80 properties downtown, who has demanded more parking before he'll rehabilitate heritage buildings and secure tenants.
But Farhi says he's upset with a city plan to seek a private partner to build a garage at 185 Queens Ave., next to the London Club.
"A parking (garage) is not going to help rejuvenate this area . . . Parking is not needed there," said Farhi, who owns about 250,000 square feet of vacant space downtown.
"I want to work with the city but I'm losing my patience," Farhi said yesterday.
When Farhi speaks, city hall listens, as was the case 10 weeks ago, when he told politicians to step up with plans for parking or he'd raze or let rot some heritage properties.
"Literally, I can knock down 20 buildings tomorrow," he said then.
But while Farhi wants parking, he doesn't want a parking garage on the city-owned lot at Queens Avenue.
With the downtown so much in need of residents and key services such as a supermarket, the city shouldn't commit key real estate to a stand-alone garage, he said.
Instead the city should partner with a developer who could build parking underground, a supermarket on the main floor and residential apartments above, he insisted.
The city also needs to stop renewing temporary permits for parking lots such as the one at the old London Mews, which has been a lot for seven years and is seeking another three years, he said.
Temporary lots do nothing to fill vacant office space because those seeking to develop those spaces need permanent parking.
"I have four heritage buildings within a block (of the London Mews) and that lot does nothing for long-term development," Farhi said.
Farhi also contends the city examined the Queens Avenue location and rejected it for a parking structure.
"Why are they bringing this dead horse out now?" he said.
E-mail and phone messages detailing Farhi's concerns were sent last week to city finance head Vic Cote.
A divided city council voted last month to seek a partner to build a parking garage at the Queens site, the first step in a plan that could cost taxpayers as much as $5 million.
Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell later said if the venture succeeds the city should spend up to $20 million to build more garages.
Council will debate in budget talks this month a strategy that has been approved in principle:
- Give up to $10,000 a parking stall to developers and spend $2.5 million a year on downtown parking.
- Grant a 10-year tax exemption for owners of garages open to the public on weekends and evenings, and a 20-year exemption for garages open to the public at all times.
- Shift development charges from developers of parking garages to taxpayers.
The city is so Dum!