City pays $1.3 million annual mortgage for nearly-empty garage
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The fees from the small number of city employees who park in the city's nearly-empty new parking garage fail to bring in enough revenue to pay for the building's annual upkeep, never mind its expensive mortgage, Hawaii News Now has learned.
The new parking structure opened in November, on the makai side of the police headquarters along King Street.
It has five levels with 410 parking stalls and only a small percentage of them are occupied.
Hawaii News Now found just seven cars parked there July 15 and Monday there were only eight cars in the structure. That's because most police dispatchers – who are the only city employees allowed to park in the new structure – are temporarily working out of a location in Kapolei.
City employees familiar with operations told Hawaii News Now they never see more than 30 or 35 cars parked at any one time, meaning less than 10 percent of the parking stalls are actually in use.
That's because the federal government gave the city the money to buy the land more than twenty years ago for a transit center, so the feds restricted its use to transit and traffic-related activities, according to City Transportation Director Mike Formby.
The city is trying to get the Federal Transit Administration to allow other city employees to park there, until a new traffic management center is built on a parcel right next door. That process is expected to take about three years.
"We've been going back and forth with the FTA for the last two months, trying to answer their questions. And the goal is to get city employees in there as quickly as possible," Formby said.
A city spokesman said Formby planned to send a written follow-up to the FTA's Region 9 office this week to get permission to use the parking facility on an interim basis. The garage was built to serve the traffic management center, which will house police, fire, EMS dispatchers and traffic management officials.
The city's annual mortgage payment on the building is $1.3 million for 25 years. That comes out to about $14.6 million in interest for the $19 million it cost to build the parking structure.
"All I can see are dollar signs going out that window," said Honolulu City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi.
The city spends about $112,000 a year to maintain the building, paying for the electricity, elevator service, fire alarms, security and phone service, a city spokesman said. The maintenance costs alone outpace the fees generated by the 122 police dispatch employees who are allowed to park there. They pay $60 a month -- adding up to only about $88,000 in annual revenue.
"We can't afford to keep maintaining the building and not getting any revenue," Kobayashi said.
Taxpayers are also alarmed.
"I mean the maintenance and everything, it adds up. You know, that's our money, so they have to do a better job than that," said Ed Higa of Ewa Beach, who was walking by the new garage as he went to a medical appointment.
There's a 200-person waiting list for city employees to park across the street from the new garage at the city's municipal building parking structure. Some city employees walk five blocks or more to the Blaisdell Center for parking. And the HPD headquarters right next door to the new parking building lacks sufficient parking spots for officers and civilian police staff.
"There's such a parking problem in this district, and I know there many city workers who would love to park here rather than parking at NBC (the Blaisdell Center) and walking over from there. It's just such a waste," Kobayashi said.
The Caldwell administration said it's trying to get approval from the feds so this new building inherited from the previous mayor's administration doesn't continue to be a white elephant.
City transportation officials have been providing information to FTA staff regarding the procurement of the lot using FTA funds and disclosures made at or about that time - questions going back 30 years to when the lot was first purchased using mass transit funds, a city spokesman said.
While waiting for the FTA's approval, Formby is also working with city unions to secure their understanding that the parking assignments will be temporary pending construction of the traffic management center, a city spokesman said.
"It's part of the process. Because we used FTA funds we have to get their approval. This administration would prefer that it be a faster process than it has been, but we are determined at the end of the day that we will get the approval," Formby said.
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