By David Skolnick
It’s going to cost the city more money to provide parking spots for VXI Global Solutions employees than originally proposed.
VXI signed a contract for up to $189,000 annually with USA Parking Systems Inc. for 700 spots at the latter’s Plaza Parking Deck at 16 N. Champion St. with the bill covered in its entirety by the city.
As part of a deal to get VXI, a call center at the city-owned 20 Federal Place office building to open and expand downtown, the city agreed to provide enough parking spots for 700 of the company’s workers.
The city signed a five-year deal about 18 months ago for 250 spots for VXI employees at the deck for $60,000 annually.
The city administration asked council in March to sign an amendment to the USA deal, retroactive to October 2010, to provide 500 total spots for VXI employees at the deck for $120,000 a year.
But council members declined to take action because they wanted to make sure the deck’s structure was in sound shape and be guaranteed that they had an accurate count of how many VXI employees’ vehicles were parking.
Lou Frangos, USA Parking’s president, said in March that he’d allowed more than 250 VXI employees to use his lot since October 2010 with the promise from city officials that he’d be reimbursed.
When council didn’t approve the new deal, Frangos first restricted VXI to 250 spots, and then canceled the deal.
“We lost some good will with USA Parking” after that, T. Sharon Woodberry, the city’s economic development director, told city council’s finance committee Monday.
Woodberry later said council’s decision to wait “was a bad move. We’re paying more than what we brought to council, a lot more. We had a better deal than what we have now.”
After Frangos canceled the parking deal, city administrators asked VXI officials to directly negotiate with the parking deck owner, Woodberry said.
That resulted in the $189,000 deal, and a decision by VXI that the company needs 700 and not 500 spots, she said.
City officials agreed to provide parking for 700 vehicles for VXI employees, and believed that could be done with 500 spots because of the different work shifts, Woodberry said.
But VXI officials said its shifts “overlap” and it needs 700 spots, she said.
Beginning this month, VXI took out its monthly parking cost of $15,750 from the rent it pays the city, about $25,000, Woodberry said.
“What checks and balances do we have so we’re not cutting a check to VXI” without knowing how many parking spots their employees are using? asked Councilman DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd.
“We felt [$120,000] was an exorbitant amount to begin with.”
VXI’s decision to sign the contract and reduce the rent payment to the city could be a contract breach by the company, Kitchen said. Woodberry and Law Director Iris Torres Guglucello said there is nothing the city can do to get out of the agreement.
There are plenty of downtown parking lots that are empty at night that could probably offer cheaper rates than the USA parking deck and the city should seek other proposals, said council President Charles Sammarone.
After USA reduced the number of spots at its deck, VXI employees were parking for free at the Covelli Centre.
But VXI employees complained about the walk to work and expressed concerns about the safety at the center.
Also Monday, council members complained that the board of control, without a council vote, approved a $90,000 annual contract in October 2010 with the Regional Income Tax Agency for a one-year renewal to pay the salary and benefits of Sarah Lown, the city’s development incentive manager.
Lown oversees the city’s applications for certain state funding and joint economic development district proposals as a RITA employee working out of the city’s economic development office.
“I’m utterly confused with” that arrangement, Kitchen said.
When pressed by council members, Guglucello agreed that city council should have approved the $90,000 allocation before the contract was renewed.
Council members only found out about the Lown renewal recently while reviewing professional service contracts, said Councilman Jamael Tito Brown, D-3rd.
“This should be a city position and the hire should be required to take a civil service test,” Sammarone said.
“I don’t feel comfortable with the way we’re doing this.”