OCC, Royal Oak in parking spat

College rethinking city’s usage of structure during Arts, Beats & Eats

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published June 26, 2013

Oakland Community College and Royal Oak are not seeing eye to eye when it comes to revenue that the city collects for using the college’s downtown parking structure during Arts, Beats & Eats.

For the last three years, OCC has allowed the city to collect $15 per vehicle using the structure during the annual four-day festival. For the city, the agreement has meant about $50,000 annually in net profit, accounting for half of its total net profit from hosting Art, Beats & Eats. Simultaneously, officials of the college say it has created a net loss for OCC.

So the community college recently informed Royal Oak officials that it will no longer allow the city to collect all the revenue and is currently re-examining if it will allow the city to collect any at all.

Janet Roberts, the executive director of marketing and communications for OCC, said the structure will stay open for Arts, Beats & Eats, but the way the current funding stream is set up does not allow the college to recoup losses from those days.

“The problem that we are having is that not all of the costs are covered,” she said

City Manager Don Johnson said after the June 19 Downtown Development Authority meeting — the very meeting where the DDA approved a contract extension with Arts, Beats & Eats through 2017 — that the city will find parking elsewhere and shuttle patrons to the downtown event, if necessary.

Johnson called OCC’s decision “retribution” for the city’s refusal to sell the college a parcel of land just north of its campus earlier this year.

“Those are two separate and independent issues for us,” Roberts said, denying Johnson’s retribution claim.

The parcel the college wanted to buy from the city is located on the southwest corner of Seventh and Main streets.

“It’s a piece they want and have wanted for some time,” Johnson said.

He said the city and DDA wanted to wait until they knew what would be happening with an adjacent and larger parcel, where a developer has hinted at, but not formally presented, plans to build a hotel.

“If his development gets built, we would probably be quite willing to sell the other parcel to OCC,” he said. “However, if we are going to look at other developers to deal with that location, the problem with the other parcel for most uses is that it doesn’t have much Main Street frontage.”

For retail-type businesses, developers will want the pedestrian traffic from Main Street, which the larger parcel would have only if it was sold in conjunction with the smaller parcel that OCC wants, he said.

Roberts said OCC’s stance has nothing to do with a lack of support for Arts, Beats & Eats.

“First and foremost, we have been supportive of the festival, and we’ve tried to be a good partner in the process,” Roberts said.

With that, she said Oakland County taxpayers pay for the structure and the college loses money throughout the four days because of the staffing levels they are required to maintain.

Roberts said she could not provide a deadline on when the college will decide to completely part ways with Royal Oak or create a revenue-sharing formula with the city.

Regardless of OCC’s pending decision, Johnson said the city is moving on and looking at other areas to make up the parking revenue.

“I’ve got excess capacity elsewhere,” Johnson said.

One alternative example he pointed out was Royal Oak Middle School’s parking lot. The city could use a shuttle to transport people from their cars to downtown.

“I would suspect that, even if OCC decides to operate (their structure), we would drive most of the traffic elsewhere,” Johnson said.

He said the city could create maps and signs directing drivers away from OCC’s structure.

Jonathan Witz, the direct of Arts, Beats & Eats, said he is willing to help the city make up for the lost revenue by seeking out additional parking.

“We’re going to be a team player in helping to find revenue and support in any way we can just to help out with a position from OCC we certainly don’t agree with and are frustrated by,” Witz said.