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Chase Bank's exclusive parking places irk surrounding businesses
Giovanni Di Quattro is worried, frustrated.
The owner of the Rainbow Cafe on East Main Street says he's lost business in the short time he's owned the downtown Auburn eatery.
The cause, he says — 16 parking spaces in the lot north of Safeway and southeast of his restaurant that the City of Auburn recently sold to Chase Bank for the exclusive, one-hour use of bank customers. Until New Year's Day, all of the spaces were free, three-hour parking slots for public use, and customers patronizing nearby businesses relied on them.
Now, white lettering on 16 of the parking spots warns: "Chase Bank 1 hour customer parking."
"Sixteen spots I think is excessive," Di Quattro fumed.
The restaurateur is upset as well with how the City effected a change he says only it and Chase knew was coming: it sent out a crew early on New Year's Day to paint the parking spots.
"The City could have gotten everybody's input, and that would have been best. The City should have asked us, as business owners, what would you like to see. It didn't do that," Di Quattro said.
Kristina Driessen, an attorney with the Auburn law firm Ryan & Driessen, Inc., P.S., fired salvos at the City Council on Monday.
"I know myself and other business owners there were not given the opportunity to question it, to give our thoughts and concerns," she said. "In the short time that (Chase Bank) has had this parking, it has affected my business ... I've been at 16 A Street for 13 years, and prior to it being Chase Bank it was Washington Mutual, and there never was a time when their parking lot was completely full. And now they've been given more spaces, and other business owners are going to suffer. I think it's a shame that small business owners are going to suffer because of that."
"The City is real good at giving away our parking," Cheryl Creson, owner of Creson's Barber Shop on East Main Street said at her shop last week. "The City keeps talking about bringing in all these businesses, but where are they going to park?"
The Auburn Reporter was unable to reach bank officials before this issue went to press.
City Economic Development Director Doug Lein said that the City had a problem with the pending sale of a City-owned block, that Chase Bank had a problem that stood to cost it its parking and its tenancy, and that the new reality spray painted over those 16 parking spaces in the parking lot represents the solution to both problems.
Here, according to City records, is what happened.
Teutsch Partners, LLC was negotiating to buy the Gambini block on South Division Street from the City when company officials realized that to complete the $50 million plus development project they had in mind for the block, they had to have the portion of the parking lot owned by Chase directly across A Street Southeast, used by bank employees.
Auburn's contract with Teutsch specified that if the City were to acquire the Chase property on the west side of A Street Southeast, Teutsch had the option to buy it from the City at a preset price.
Turns out that the City had leverage to acquire that bit of property, and used it.
As property records show, the Chase Bank property on the east side of A Street Southeast had been developed over its north property line 40-plus years ago. That meant that Chase actually only owned half of the parking lot it believed it had owned all along. The real owner of the rest was the City of Auburn.
As the City informed the bank, the bank stood to lose 16 of its remaining parking spaces, half of its driveway — legally the driveway could no longer exist because it failed to meet state guidelines— and as a consequence its occupancy permit.
Faced by such stark realities, Chase Bank ceded that portion of the lot to the City. The City sold it the next day to Teutsch Partners.
(Teutsch closed on its purchase of the Gambini block last week.)
In lieu of those 16 spaces acquired by Teutsch Partners, the City gave Chase a permanent easement on those 16 troubled parking spaces next to the bank.
And it sold the bank the 16 parking spots in the parking north of Safeway for $140,000, plus cash.
Jeff Tate, interim planning director for the City of Auburn, noted that there are 80 parking spaces left for customers to use elsewhere on the parking lot.
"Perhaps they're not as convenient for these business owners. It's a challenge when you have a building and there are tenants in a building and there's no parking dedicated to that building," Tate said. "There's no question about that. We've run into that situation with a few of the other buildings that are downtown that have no dedicated parking assigned. So employees and patrons are left to rely on some of the public parking that's available."
Tate's reference to the 80 remaining parking spaces came as cold comfort to Di Quattro.
"Well, those are either permit parking or three-hour parking way down there," he said. "I have the elderly, and if it's pouring down rain, they're not going park that far away. And they're not going to walk down here. They are going to go somewhere where they can park close to where they can get in."
Mindy Stanley, a customer of the Rainbow for 30 years, said she may be forced to find another restaurant.
"I was very frustrated because I was driving around, and there was no parking out there. I'm going to have to go to a different restaurant if I can't find parking, and that really irritates me because I really like the Rainbow Cafe a lot," Stanley said. "I was out there going, 'Why does Chase need all these parking spots?'"
Di Quattro said the best solution would have been for the City to leave the 16 parking spaces as they were, catch as catch can.
He said his customers have been asking him since Jan. 1 if they will be ticketed for parking in the slots dedicated to Chase's use.
"Eventually, people are just going to start parking over there. But can they be ticketed on private property? If Chase owns that property, it's private property. They can hire a company to come in and monitor and ticket for them, but do they really want to do this to their neighbors? I'm not sure," Di Quattro said."I'm not going to have all the solutions, but maybe as a group we could have come up with something that would have been good for Chase and for us. Again, 16 spots I think is excessive. They'd have to fill their parking spots, and that's a lot of customers going into a bank. And if the bank's employees were using the parking lot across A Street, and their argument was they need those 16 parking spots for their employees, then why aren't those 16 spots marked 'For employees of Chase Bank only'?"
"Really, what I wanted to know was the process," Driessen told the City Council. "How was this parking given to them? Was there a vote on it, was there a meeting that I missed that I should have been at? I really think when you're dedicating a public parking area to a private commercial entity, it's something that should have been voted on."
Tate said that the City's next conversation with Chase Bank will center on "what their practice will be in terms of allowing access to their parking areas during non-peak hours, and maybe even during some of their peak hours, as they understand that they probably don't have all of their spaces full all of the time. That is a conversation that is starting," Tate said.