The Current | January 29, 2001

Meeting University's parking needs requires planning, high costs

by Josh Renaud

Parking fees pay for a lot—concrete repair work, maintenance, signs, and other things. Generally, they don't fluctuate much from year to year.

Unless you're building several new parking garages, as UMSL is. The process of planning for parking needs and then paying to build the infrastructure can be a little complex.

When a campus decides it wants to build a new garage, it will usually finance it by issuing revenue bonds.

The campus will "prepare a business plan that shows how they will finance and pay for the garage," said Jim Cofer, UM System vice president for Finance and Administration.

This business plan is used as the basis for determining how much it will cost to pay the bonds, which in turn indicates how much the parking fee must be increased to cover that payment, he said.

Now is the perfect opportunity for the University to issue bonds, said Jim Krueger, vice chancellor for Managerial and Technological Services.

"It takes 30 years to pay off the bonds. The interest rates are very favorable, so this is a good time," Krueger said. "We've done very well on our previous debt issues. That's another reason we're trying to get [these bonds] locked in place, because then you have [that rate] for 30 years."

After the business plan and the bond issues are approved by the Board of Curators, administrators must determine how and when to raise the revenue needed to pay off the bonds. Krueger works together with Reinhard Schuster, the vice chancellor for Administrative Services, to accomplish this. Schuster's department works on the structures themselves and gets cost estimates. Krueger's department develops financial models used to figure out how to pay for the garages. They come up with a number for the parking fee which is sent to Chancellor Blanche Touhill. She must decide on the fee by March 1, when UMSL's Schedule of Courses is printed.

Saving vs. Bonds

But do parking garages have to be built this way? Some students wondered if it was possible to pay for parking garages without raising the parking fee so high.

"I realize they need to maintain the lots and build new garages," said Nicole Burgan, a junior majoring in communications, "but they should find money from other sources."

"I would love to find money from other sources, but I haven't," said Touhill. "The state won't give me money for garages. The old garages we have were put up in the 60s and 70s. They were temporary garages when they were put up. To prop them up costs millions. Aren't we better to build permanent garages, steady the price people are going to pay, and provide safe places to park?"

Schuster hinted at one alternative to paying for garages with large fee increases. He suggested that one of the planned garages could be postponed while the University saved some money. That would enable them to build the garage with their own funds.

Touhill said she thought that was a valid idea, but didn't remember UMSL ever doing something like that.

"This is a user fee. The people who use [the garages] are going to pay for them," she said. "I would have to say to you, are you prepared to have [the parking fee] go up $4 in order to prepare for 20 years from now?"

Who are the users?

The question of user fees is important. Some administrators have expressed concern that not all the garage users will be paying such a user fee. They point to the proposed "north garage" which will be built near the Performing Arts Center and the UMSL North Metrolink station. The garage's distance from the academic core of north campus and its close proximity to the Arts Center would seem to indicate the garage is intended more for patrons of the Arts Center, but students would shoulder the burden of paying for it, they say.

Bob Samples, director of University Communications, answered this by pointing to the future growth of the campus. The north garage would serve the academic and athletic complexes, he said, while being conveniently close to the new campus entrance that will be built in several years. The University also intends to do something with the Hollywood Park property near the north garage site, since it owns 80 percent of it, he said.

Touhill said that they were discussing some sort of system to charge Performing Arts Center patrons, but that no final decision had been made.

"If we do, then we would probably reduce those costs to the students," she said.

A vision for the campus

To understand the administration's position on parking garages, it's important to understand their vision for the campus. Touhill and Samples explained that the four new garages are being positioned to meet the needs of the future as the campus grows in different directions and adds new buildings.

"If you look at the master plan, the Mark Twain Drive as we know it now disappears," Samples said. "The East Drive and West Drive become somewhat of the ring around the campus. The garages are planned to be on those rings...You have one [garage] on the north, two on the east, and you have one on the west. You're kind of wrapping around."

Moving the parking garages to the outside of the University means many students will have to walk farther to get to class.

That may be true, Touhill said, but in the future, that walk will at least be more pleasant. Eventually, all the buildings in the quadrangle will be connected, except the library, she said. A tunnel will connect the East Drive garage to the Millennium Student Center, which will be connected to Lucas Hall and Clark Hall by the bridge.

"We're trying to say that you're not going to be able to pull [your car] right up to the building," Touhill said, "but we're trying to make it so you have some comfort."