Mayor's panel approves plan to sell downtown Baltimore parking garages

Mayor Rawlings-Blake has cleared the way for negotiations to sell four downtown parking garages.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake bypassed the City Council on Thursday to approve a proposal allowing the city to sell four downtown, city-owned garages to raise up to $60 million for recreation centers.

The plan — which clears the way for the city to begin negotiating with companies to buy the garages — was unanimously approved Thursday night by the Off-Street Parking Commission, a six-member panel of mayoral appointees that hadn't met since 2007.

The proposal had previously stalled for two years in a council committee, blocked by City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who has argued that the garages are generating revenue for the city and shouldn't be sold.

Rawlings-Blake will leave office before the garages can be sold. Mayor-elect Catherine Pugh, who takes office Dec. 6, would make the final decision on any deal and how any money is spent.

The mayor appointed to the commission Steve Sharkey, director of general services; Paul Graziano, director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City; Tom Stosur, director of planning; Henry Raymond, director of finance; Frank Murphy, acting director of transportation; and Andrew Smullian, deputy mayor for government relations and labor.

Their vote followed more than an hour of presentations on the merits of selling the garages by Peter Little, executive director of the Parking Authority of Baltimore City, and other city officials.

The city received unsolicited offers for the garages — located at 11 S. Eutaw St., 22 S. Gay St., 101 S. Paca St. and 210 St. Paul Place — a decade ago, when they weren't profitable, Little said. After significant improvements, they are performing at a market rate and generating $2.8 million a year in net income after debt servicing and capital expenses, he said.

The value of the sale, Little added, exceeds the appraised value of maintaining city ownership.

The sale, which officials project would net roughly $60.3 million, would assist the Parks and Recreation Department in building and maintaining $136 million in fitness and wellness centers, community centers, outdoor athletic centers and pools across the city, according to acting Parks and Recreation director William Vondrasek.

The City Council did not put a representative on the committee. City Councilman Brandon Scott, who spoke briefly before the vote, told the agency heads that, whatever happens, he will press for a positive outcome for youths.

"There's no issue in the city that's more important to me than modernizing and adding better rec centers," Scott said.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said after the vote that the council president is looking forward to discussing next steps with Pugh.

"The two of them ... are going to sit down together and figure out a way forward," he said.

Pugh has said she will have her economic development team study the "feasibility" of selling the garages.

"We'll do a careful evaluation of the whole entire thing," she said Thursday night.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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Editor's Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify that the four parking garages generate $2.8 million per year in net revenue after debt servicing and capital expenses.

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