Biddeford councilors on Nov. 19 gave the go-ahead for staff to continue the process of developing a Special Assessment District, whereby those within the district would be required to pay a fee if revenue from a planned parking garage and surface lots falls below 90 percent of projections. A final vote is expected to come in about six months. Courtesy image

BIDDEFORD — The City Council has voted to continue the process of developing a Special Assessment District that would come into play only if revenue from a new parking garage and surface lots dip below 90 percent of projections.

The SAD would be assessed semi annually “only if the shortfall is the result of deviations in operation and maintenance costs and expenses and/or parking system revenues,” according to a memo prepared for the City Council by city staff.

City officials have said any parking revenue shortfalls would not be borne by taxpayers, hence the development of the SAD. An early map of the  SAD, as currently configured, includes the area  known generally as the mill district. The fee would be borne by those in the district.

The vote was 7 to 2, with councilors Laura Seaver and Michael Ready dissenting. It is expected the final version of the SAD would be ready for a City Council vote in about six months. The vote on Tuesday, Nov. 19 was only to continue with the process.

“I do agree this was part of the whole proposal that has been approved and I would be appalled if the council doesn’t support it at this point,” said Seaver, who didn’t seek re-election  Nov. 5  and so was attending her final City Council meeting, “I personally did not vote for it the first time around, and in speaking to several of the impacted parties, I feel like a double jeopardy (is being) put on them — they’ll be renting spaces, investing in the garage and using it, then they get the double whammy if you have to pay the losses.”

“This is an opening salvo in a long discussion,” said Councilor Amy Clearwater, who said she supports the measure and expects the final SAD would look a bit different than the current version.

“I am in support of this as well,” said Councilor Robert Quattrone. “We saw this as part of the (parking) garage process, so if we voted it down, we would (have) a lot of answering to do.”

“It is my hope we never have to use this,” said Councilor Stephen St. Cyr.

“This needs to be on the top of the priority list,” said Councilor Marc Lessard.

Revenue projections are already robust, Biddeford Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy noted in an email in response to questions.

“The committed revenue ( spaces reserved in the garage plus the revenue already coming from surface lots) is already at two-thirds of the revenue needed to fund operations — before the parking garage opens,” said Eddy. “We just have to raise one-third.”

He said other commitments haven’t yet been added to the mix.

“When the garage is opened it will be exceeding 100 percent of revenue projections,” he said. “When that happens, the city gets 90 percent of those revenue exceedances, the developer 10 percent.”

Eddy said that in the proposed SAD, the allocation to each property owner would be based on their percentage of the total base property value in the district. He said the city has met with the mill owners on how the proposal would work.

The first payment, if required, would not be assessed until six months after the parking garage opens, according to the city council memo. The garage is projected to open in the spring of 2021, but no later than Dec. 31 of that year.

In September, Biddeford City Council voted 5-3 to begin the process of building a 640-space parking garage at 3 Lincoln St. The decision allowed Biddeford City Manager James Bennett to enter into  a joint development agreement with Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure Capital Partners and the James W. Sewall Company, which will form Biddeford Innovations Inc. to build and run the garage, according to a Sept. 18 Journal Tribune story by Catherine Bart. The project includes the next phase of the city’s RiverWalk.

The preliminary budget for construction of the parking garage has come in at $22.8 million, the city council was told in a Nov. 12 workshop.

City attorney Keith Jacques said the current surface parking lots remain under control of the city during construction of the parking garage. Once substantial completion happens, he said at the workshop, the developer would hire an operations subcontractor for the garage and surface lots. He said the city would approve the maintenance agreement and the operator.

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