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Parking change could bring in $375 million for Ohio State

Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor

University officials are moving forward with a proposal to lease parking services to a private vendor for up to $375 million.

The Ohio State Board of Trustees approved a proposal on Sept. 9 to begin looking for private vendors to take over OSU’s parking operations.

The agreement with the private vendor would be a 30- to 50-year lease, to be implemented in June 2012 at the earliest.

Geoffrey Chatas, the university’s chief financial officer, met with OSU’s Board of Trustees on Sept. 8 and 9 to discuss permission to begin looking for possible vendors.

“We’re looking at all of our non-core assets. We would never do this for housing, as an example, or our dorms ever, but parking we should look at.” Chatas told The Lantern.

Now that the proposal has been approved, Chatas said he is working to create a request for qualifications to send to possible companies.

Chatas said they will consider how many states companies manage, the companies’ experience levels, how many years they have been in the business, the companies’ sizes and locations and whether they’ve worked for the university before making a decision.

“We’ll look at all those and say, ‘Are you qualified or not?'” Chatas said.

The request is to be finalized within the next couple of weeks, according to Chatas.

Chatas said the outside vendor would be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the university’s 35,000-plus parking spaces in garages and lots on the main Columbus campus.

Regional campuses would still be maintained by current management. OSU would also manage parking during special events like home football games and student move-in week, according to Chatas.

OSU would retain control over the CABS bus system and continue to negotiate with COTA for student bus fares, Chatas said. Traffic signals and street and bicycle safety would also be handled by the university, said Sarah Blouch, executive director of transportation and parking services.

OSU will hand over control of snow removal, repainting parking lots and garages and parking permit operations to the chosen company. The look and organization of the current permit system would remain largely unchanged, according to Chatas.

Chatas said OSU would use the money from the deal to fund scholarships, on-campus transportation and faculty research.

But student and faculty parking permit fees, garage fees and pay-and-display fees would go to the outside vendor.

Parking fees at OSU have doubled in the last decade, going up about 8 percent per year. With a permit, the average parking spot that once cost around $1.25 per day now costs about $2.50, Chatas said.

Private vendors will still be able to increase these fees for 10 years after signing a contract at a rate no larger than 7.5 percent per year. For the remainder of the lease, fees could be increased at maximum of 4 percent per year.

The potential fee increase is among students’ concerns about the possible outsourcing of parking.

“Last time I tried to receive a parking pass for the year, it was way out of my price range. Just recently, I heard from a friend that for the new year, they were raising the prices. That just made my jaw drop,” said Henrick Sawczak, a fifth-year in chemical engineering.

Chatas is scheduled to meet with student government leaders this week to discuss the proposal and schedule public meetings for students to voice their concerns about the possible outsourcing of parking operations.

Chatas has no knowledge of a similar program at other universities, but cities like Indianapolis and Chicago have outsourced parking operations, providing a potential model for OSU’s proposal.

However, Blouch acknowledged that this model would not perfectly suit OSU.

“Unlike cities, we’re a little bit more. They’re parking garages and street meters, and we’re not quite that simple.” Blouch said.

An estimated 70 employees in Transportation and Parking would be affected by this change. The employees are concerned, despite reassurances that their jobs are safe, Blouch said.

“Geoff (Chatas) has been very clear that it’s not an efficiency (issue) and that we’ll do everything we can to help them find a job. They’re good people, but they’re worried,” Blouch said.

The employees will have the option to work for the new parking company or to remain employed by the university.

“We’re not going to be letting anybody go as a result of this transaction,” Chatas said.

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