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Nashville Mayor Eyes Plan to Privatize Parking

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Nashville Mayor Karl Dean Nashville Mayor Karl Dean
Metro Council member Michael Craddock Metro Council member Michael Craddock

By Phil Williams

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Could Nashville end up auctioning off parking meters and other parking spaces to the highest bidder?

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean confirms it's being considered.

He did that after NewsChannel 5 Investigates team obtained an internal document that lays out a controversial proposal to privatize the city's parking.

It comes as Metro leaders prepare for what may be a tough budget battle ahead.

Last week, as Metro Council debated whether to build a new convention center, some members predicted huge budget shortfalls. "I think we are going to have a train wreck of monumental proportions come May," said Michael Craddock.

That's where the city's parking meters and parking lots might become valuable, as Finance Director Rich Riebeling emailed the mayor back in November. (Read the email.)

"We might be able to essentially privatize our parking operations and generate significant upfront cash," Riebeling wrote. "If want to possibly get done for upcoming budget, need to move ASAP."

Dean's response: "Let's talk today."

On Monday, Dean told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "This is just something that we are just thinking about. We have taken no steps to implement it. No steps to move forward on it."

But in a proposal -- marked "Preliminary & Confidential" -- financial giant Morgan Stanley lays out a plan in which private companies might bid for the city's 2,000 parking meters and another 2,000 parking garage spaces -- paying the city now and keeping income from those spaces for years to come. (Read the Morgan Stanley proposal.)

The Morgan Stanley report says that the city might also want to consider putting parking at the new convention center up for bids.

"Given the economic constraints that we are operating under, I think we need to look at any serious proposal that is brought forth," Dean said.

After being shown the confidential document, Craddock said. "Here we go looking for ways to come up with cash."

The council member said that while Nashville would get the upfront money now, it would mean the loss of a source of revenue for the future.

"I'm not comfortable with giving any city service over to private enterprise. Then, how do we control the parking rates. Who sets the parking rates? Who answers to problems?"

In Chicago, where Morgan Stanley was involved in a hotly debated $1.5 billion dollar parking deal, there will be "gradual meter rate increases over five years," according to the document given to Metro.

In the case of parking garages, the "City does not limit the fees that the Concessionaire may charge."

Dean said, "It has helped them through some of their budget issues, but most of the money has been spent relatively quick up front and the deal was designed for many, many years. That gives me pause too."

The mayor said he's not even sure whether such a deal could get done in time for this year's budget.

"Can you absolutely rule it out for the next budget cycle?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"No," Dean answered, "I wouldn't rule anything out at this point."

A lot of the details depend upon how any such contracts are written.

In addition, the city recently started charging for parking at meters on Saturday and added more meters.

The mayor says there's no connection, but the Morgan Stanley report hints that such measures might make privatization more lucrative for all involved.

email: pwilliams@newschannel5.com

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