ASHLAND After an equally divided public comment session and over the objections of a commissioner, the Ashland Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve the Community Trust Bank’s donation of a parking lot to the city.
With an initial cost of around $455,000, the donation was fiercely opposed by Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs, who decided to drop the ballot in order to do a parking study.
Spriggs argued that if opening the garage to the public was a good idea, why isn’t the bank doing it themselves?
During public comments, Chief Commissioner and Solicitor Roger Hall said he was not there to represent anyone or any organization, but as a private citizen.
“It’s nice to be in front of a public forum with an agenda,” he said.
Hall questioned the commission about the discrepancy between the property’s PVA appraisal ($884,000) and appraised value ($1.575 million) saying it would result in a nice tax deduction for the bank. He also questioned the terms of the lease (50 years) as well as the number of parking spaces that will still be kept by the bank.
“There is no liability for the bathroom, for insurance and structural assessment,” Hall said. “They will keep all the signage there. All the city gets is partial use of the parking spaces.
After Mayor Matt Perkins informed Hall he had reached his five minutes to comment, Hall asked two questions: What will the city get from the 50-year deal and which party approached whom?
“I just think we’re in a rush here,” Hall said.
After a brief intermission where Hillcrest Bruce apartment manager Mike Maynard reported on the number of people who have found employment or education through the mission, Ashland City Commission nominee David Williams, stepped onto the podium.
Right off the bat, Williams asked the commission why they commented on Maynard’s report, but did not respond to Hall’s questions.
“We can choose to comment here or we can choose to wait until the end to address questions and concerns,” Perkins replied.
Williams first posed questions and criticism regarding the entertainment district proposal (allowing open containers at special events with special regulations in downtown), to which City Attorney Jim Moore pointed out answered.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Moore said. “It’s been done in 11 or 12 other cities in Kentucky and I haven’t heard of any problems.”
Williams’ comments then made their way to the parking lot, where he asked the city not to rush into this deal. Moore, along with Commissioner Amanda Clark and City Manager Mike Graese, said the deal lasted three years.
Moore also addressed concerns about the gap between the PVA’s valuation and the appraisal – he said the PVA was generally low in its real estate appraisals.
“Well, what if the public doesn’t want to take it on?” Aren’t we supposed to have parking at the convention center if you build it? said Williams.
“When we build it,” Clark said.
“Well, we don’t know if that’s going to happen – a lot can happen between now and then,” Williams said.
By this point, Williams’ time had expired – Perkins stepped in to let him know.
“While Mr. Hall here has said he likes being somewhere where they have an agenda, I like being somewhere where I can adequately voice my concerns,” he said. “As long as people don’t babble.”
Whit’s Frozen Custard owner Richard Ritchie took to the podium, saying that as a business owner, the potential for a parking garage could help alleviate parking problems downtown.
“The main problem is that my employees, myself included, have to park on Winchester,” he said. “There are a lot of older customers who may need to park elsewhere and won’t come in unless there’s an open parking space in front of my store.”
Ritchie said the parking lot could be used by downtown business owners as a place to park their employees, freeing up space for customers.
“It’s here, it’s built and it’s available,” Ritchie said. “I don’t know how we would do this, but we need to figure out how business owners can come together to make this our employees.”
Clark said she would help facilitate this through her connections with Summer Motion.
David Willey, restaurateur at Billy Bare, said customer perception is key – while there may be plenty of space available, they are not available directly across from Sal’s Italian Eatery.
“We employ 50 workers, we have 25 workers per shift,” he said. “That’s 25 occupied spaces during our busiest hours.”
Willey said customers knew there was a parking problem.
Perkins thanked the two businessmen for their support of Ashland.
When it came time to vote, Spriggs raised concerns about upfront costs, saying she felt there was no benefit to taxpayers.
“I don’t know if we have to shoulder this burden when 25% of our citizens live in poverty,” Spriggs said. “We install lighting. I feel pressured to vote for this and I can’t.
Commissioner Josh Blanton said Spriggs made a lot of good points, but he said his informal study of downtown parking – from when he lived downtown – showed he didn’t. There was no problem with the number of spaces, and the problem is the placement of the spaces.
He said the upfront costs were worth it in order to support the downtown’s future growth.
Clark said acquiring the parking garage does two things – it provides public restrooms for people downtown and it will be open later for downtown events. Currently, the garage closes at 7 p.m., Clark said.
She said that while another garage is under construction in tandem with the convention center, this garage will strictly serve the hotel and the conference center.
Spriggs said the misfortunes of downtown business owners are of their own making.
“They park in front of the business and then complain that their customers don’t have parking,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs also said the city’s losses after taking over the cemetery show that taking over a parking lot probably won’t work either.
“We’re not doing a good job there, so why would we accept that?” said Spriggs. “Like I said before, if it’s such a good idea, why doesn’t the bank do it?”
Before voting, Perkins said the heated discussion showed how much the City Commission cares about the use of its tax dollars.
“Whether it’s $1 or $2 of taxpayers’ money, we’ll always treat it seriously,” Perkins said.