Hell no: City responds to parking center proposals

Mark Brown says he’s not angry the city rebuffed scenarios to settle the Water Street Garage litigation, but he is selling the Main Street Arena and looking for more hospitable municipalities.

Photo Jackson Smith Mark Brown says he’s not angry the city rebuffed scenarios to settle the Water Street Garage litigation, but he is selling the Main Street Arena and looking for more hospitable municipalities. Photo Jackson Smith

In the ongoing melodrama between the city and Charlottesville Parking Center owner Mark Brown, a letter from City Manager Maurice Jones says there’s no way the city will sell its Water Street Parking Garage shares to or even work with Brown, who, perhaps not coincidentally, announced plans to sell the Main Street Arena and take at least part of his investments elsewhere.

The latest barrage was in response to an August 8 letter from CPC general manager Dave Norris outlining three scenarios in which CPC would sell its parking spaces in the garage to the city or vice versa, complete with an optimistic plan that CPC would build a parking garage on a Market Street lot jointly owned by the city and county to appease the county, which has threatened to take its general district court out of the city because of the dismal parking situation.

Jones writes that former mayor Norris’ statements that the scenarios represent an opportunity to end the dispute “quickly” and “in the city’s favor” represent a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the city’s position.

He scoffs at the idea that the city would buy Brown’s interest in the Water Street Garage, which includes 390 spaces, the land underneath and commercial spaces, for $8,995,400, the amount CPC contends the city would have to pay if it goes through with its eminent domain threat. Brown bought CPC, including a surface lot across from the garage, for $13.8 million in 2013.

A major sticking point for the city is that while Brown offers to sell his spaces for $18,232 each, his offer to buy the city’s 629 spaces was at a much lower $7,822 each. “That huge discrepancy suggests that CPC either has no interest in seriously negotiating the sale” of its garage spaces or that it “continues to mistakenly believe” the fair market value of its spaces is far greater than the city’s because it owns the land upon which the Water Street Garage sits.

That, says Jones, is like the city arguing its spaces are more valuable because they’re exempt from real estate taxes. Neither “advantage” would be passed on to a purchaser, he says.

And in case there’s any doubt about the city’s position, using both bold text and underlining, Jones says, “City Council has no interest in selling its spaces in the WSPG to CPC.”

As for working together to build a garage on Seventh and Market streets after Brown’s attempts to force the city to sell its Water Street shares, says Jones, “I can unequivocally respond that no one on City Council can imagine any scenario where this type of partnership would be of interest to the city.”

On page three of the four-page letter, Jones lists Brown’s, er, CPC’s misdeeds, including suing the city, secretly negotiating with Albemarle to build a garage on Market Street, allowing downtown businesses to believe he was contemplating closing the garage because the association that runs it had not approved a budget and filing a second lawsuit seeking the emergency appointment of a receiver.

Norris declined to comment on the city’s letter, but Brown had something to say about it: “It seemed like the ramblings of a lunatic. Maurice Jones didn’t write a word of that.” Brown says he believes Mayor Mike Signer and the city’s Richmond attorney, Tom Wolf, wrote the letter.

“Not true,” says Wolf. He also downplays the tone of the letter. “I think it’s just responding to their letter. I don’t think it’s a go-to-hell letter.”

In a September 14 statement, Wolf says, “I would think that after a while people would get tired of Mark Brown’s constant whining and his relentless efforts to twist everything to benefit himself at the expense of others.”

Jones’ letter says, “This dispute is not, however, about parking rates and never has been,” and alleges that Brown’s scheme all along has been to force the city to sell its interest in the garage to him.

“That was an outright lie,” declares Brown. He contends the only time CPC ever made an offer was when the city requested one in writing.

As for an amicable settlement of the increasingly hostile dispute, says legal expert Dave Heilberg, “As of today it doesn’t look like it. It’s hard to tell how much [of the city’s letter] is posturing.”

Heilberg calls such communications in civil litigation “nastygrams.” And if the parties really want to settle, he says, “They’ll come in with offers a lot closer.”

City Attorney Craig Brown says, “Yes, there is a possibility for the case to settle. …CPC just needs to offer to sell its spaces in the Water Street Parking Garage for their fair market value.”

While Mark Brown, who also owns Yellow Cab, has listed the Main Street Arena for sale before as what he calls a “teaser,” this time he says he’s serious and has ordered a for sale sign. The arena is listed at $6.5 million.

“I don’t have any confidence in [city leadership’s] ability to function in a rational way,” he says, as Charlottesville transforms from a town to a small city. He sees “signs of dysfunction” in how the city is run. “You can’t put out patio chairs in the wrong color but they let the Landmark sit for eight years,” he says, referring to the hotel skeleton on the Downtown Mall.

“I’m not angry,” he says, while expressing concerns about the Belmont Bridge (“How long has that dragged on?”), the Strategic Investment Area and the West Main streetscape. “I don’t see any leadership from City Hall,” he says.

Brown believes money invested in municipalities that have “real leadership” will result in a higher return.

As for the fate of the only ice rink in the area, says Brown, “That’s going to be up to the owners of the building. I’m going to be investing elsewhere.”

CPC Response Letter 9-12-16

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