MID CITY ‚Äî One of Saint John‚Äôs Health Center‚Äôs main parking providers gave the hospital notice that it would end its lease of spaces in March, raising the possibility that the hospital would have to build a parking garage that it has worked hard to avoid.
According to a letter to the City Council, Saint John‚Äôs officials received a 120-day notice in December that its lease of parking spaces at the Colorado Center office complex (formerly the Yahoo! Center) would be canceled.
The hospital leases 450 of its 1,528 parking spaces at the site.
Representatives of Equity Office, the company that owns the Colorado Center, said that they do not comment on lease terms, and would not say why the lease had been canceled.
The arrangement was an important part of a deal reached in 2011 to prevent the hospital from building a 442-space subterranean parking garage, which officials had agreed to construct as part of the 1998 development agreement needed to repair the hospital after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
That deal, which then-Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer called “the mother of all parking variances,” codified an existing illegal situation in which Saint John‚Äôs was renting the spaces at the Yahoo! Center and Saint Anne‚Äôs Catholic Church.
The agreement came with teeth, however.
The parking had to be considered “functionally equivalent” to providing the spaces in the structure. While the meaning of that term was at the heart of some internal debate, it ended with a much-lauded provision labeled “2.2,” which dictated that if city officials believed that the parking was no longer equivalent, the hospital would have to build the $25 million structure anyway.
At the City Council meeting Tuesday night, Councilmember Kevin McKeown asked staff to review that section to see if losing the Colorado Center parking spaces might trigger that critical provision.
In a letter to the City Council, the acting chief operations officer for the hospital, Ken Meehan, explained that Saint John‚Äôs will look for alternative parking spots in the city, but that the fate of those at the Colorado Center is not yet sealed.
“We do not believe [Colorado Center] has a legal basis for terminating our parking lease, and we have communicated this,” Meehan wrote. “Despite this, we are proceeding as if we may lose our right to park at [the Colorado Center] as of March 31.”
Whether the new arrangement measures up to City Hall‚Äôs expectations remains to be seen.
“It behooves Saint John‚Äôs to come back to us and propose a solution,” City Manager Rod Gould told the council on Tuesday.
City officials will analyze whatever compromise the hospital puts forward and return to council.
As for community members who urged the City Council to keep Saint John‚Äôs accountable to its original promises, they‚Äôre left with little more satisfaction than an “I told you so.” (The Daily Press‚Äô editorial board came out strongly against the deal allowing Saint John‚Äôs to not build the parking it once promised.)
“The problem I had with the description of Saint John‚Äôs predicament ‚Ä¶¬† was that this broken agreement was treated so lightly and with such confidence that Saint John‚Äôs would be able to deal with it by finding even more parking somewhere ‚Äî anywhere ‚Äî in the city,” said Gregg Heacock, president of the Mid-City Neighbors, which represents residents in the area surrounding the hospital.
Residents of Mid-City have been contending with parking problems caused by Saint John‚Äôs for years, issues that they say have not improved because of the high rates the hospital charges for parking.
Those can hit $35 for an all-day pass, or $10 for 90 minutes of parking. Employees found parking in the neighborhood, forcing nurses to walk several blocks at odd hours of the night and residents to become frustrated with the lack of parking.
“It‚Äôs time for Saint John‚Äôs to make good its original promise and build the parking that it so obviously needs and owes,” said Tricia Crane, who belongs to the Northeast Neighbors group.
Saint John‚Äôs has had an eventful year, without the threat of a parking structure hanging overhead.
The hospital solved an ongoing labor dispute over its nurses‚Äô attempts to unionize and went through a recent upheaval that replaced most of its leadership, reportedly because of disagreements over the hospital‚Äôs future as it struggles to compete with bigger institutions.