SPRINGFIELD — City Councilor Sean Curran is encouraging the Springfield Parking Authority to find ways to close a $17 million gap in deferred maintenance money that is creating a delay in addressing regular work on Springfield’s parking garages.

At the March 14 hearing of the City Council Economic Development Subcommittee where he met with members of the Parking Authority, Curran asked Parking Authority leadership about the current conditions of the city’s garages as determined by the city contracted engineering firm and what amount of money was applied for in the city’s $123 million allotment of American Rescue Plan Act funding to potentially address the maintenance needs.

Parking Authority Executive Director Bokul Bhuiya said the firm is called in every two to three months as needed to assess the status of the garages as needed.

Citing discussions with former Chief Administrative and Financial Officer Timothy Plante, from whom he said he sought guidance, Bhuiya stated that he was not asked to apply for ARPA funding and therefore did not, instead he forwarded repair needs for the garages to Plante.

“I wasn’t familiar with the process,” Bhuiya said. “I was asking [Plante] at that time, whether I actually needed to go through the formal RFP process, and he indicated that they, know you, were sort of an interdepartment of the city, just send me what you have for repairs.”

Curran also inquired of Bhuiya as to whether refinancing of debt when interest rates were lowered was explored and whether any current members of the Parking Authority Board have a financial background.
The I-91 North and South garages are leased by the city while Springfield owns the Taylor Street and Columbus Center structures; all are currently slotted for millions of dollars in repair work. Several smaller garages are also currently owned by the city.

Bhuiya said changes in office work brought on by the pandemic are still negatively impacting occupancy levels in the city-controlled structures.

“[I-91] North and South are not being utilized as much,” He said.” A lot of the folks in the Towers, Monarch and Tower Square, are still working from home, those used to be very busy, they’re not as much.”

He did say the parking garages at Columbus Center, Dwight and Taylor Streets have remained busy.
Reflecting on the hearing in follow up with Reminder Publishing and acknowledging the current status of the garages and repair needs, Curran cited the importance of the board, its oversight and the necessity of ensuring proper maintenance and safety.

“The Parking Authority is central to the economic development of the City of Springfield,” Curran said. “If you’re going to work in Springfield or shop in Springfield or utilize any of the restaurants, you need parking.”

Curran also made particular acknowledgement of increased EV use in parking structures nationwide that are like those in the city that are now being assessed for their own structural integrity and stability.

“With the rise of electric vehicles we’re seeing, especially in New York City a lot of these older parking garages, similar to Springfield’s, they’re just collapsing because electric vehicles are twice as heavy as a regular car.”

Curran also questioned why the Parking Authority did not apply for ARPA funding to address the repair needs.

“I do think that was kind of a missed opportunity,” Curran said, also pointing to what he called missed chances to refinance some current debt as well as to seek bond money in recent years from the state legislative delegation for capital improvements to address needs for parking garage maintenance.
Calling the $17 million, “a big cookie that we need to take a bite out of,” Curran said the problem needs to be solved.

“There were some opportunities to address this major problem that I think were swings and kind of misses,” he said.

Curran suggested the inclusion of individuals with finance backgrounds or members of the banking community on the Parking Authority Board of Directors and the engagement with the legislative delegation to pursue funding.

“These billion-dollar bond bills or capital improvements go through the Statehouse from time to time over the course of the legislative session, the parking authority should be requesting we be included in that, they need to make the request.”

He said the Parking Authority needs to be a little more aggressive in pursuing the funds because Springfield is in competition with other Parking Authorities across the state.

“Nobody’s going to show up with a $17 million check unless you ask,” Curran said.

Curran also proposed that some ARPA funding spent by the city may be returned as not used by local businesses.

“If any of this ARPA money comes back, apply it to the Parking Authority,” Curran said. “If we get one or two or three million dollars, that’s a good start.”

Curran said there has not been a tour of the city’s garages and no structural breakdown has been initiated but he made note of the $17 Million in deferred maintenance that now exists.

He said the question is how to pay for what currently is being deferred due to the lack of funds.

Director Bhuiya did not respond to requests Reminder Publishing for follow up comment regarding the hearing and Curran’s subsequent remarks.

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