Rainbow Cafe owner asks City to do something about parking in downtown lot

Giovanni Di Quattro - Reporter file photo
Giovanni Di Quattro
— image credit: Reporter file photo

More than a month after City workers on Jan. 1 painted 16 spots in the lot north of Safeway with the words, "Chase Bank 1 hour customer parking", the situation there keeps on ginning up bad PR for the City of Auburn.

On Monday night, Giovanni Di Quattro, owner of the Rainbow Cafe, dropped frustrations at the feet of the Auburn City Council as expressed to him by members of the Auburn High School classes of 1949, 1956 and 1964.

Rainbow regulars all, said Di Quattro. And they got to be that way because, like virtually all of Auburn's older residents, they know where the venerable downtown eatery is, he said.

But since Jan. 1, Di Quattro said, those folks and many others have struggled tp get to his place and others from such parking as they've been able to find, all at an uncomfortable distance.

For the class of 1949 in particular, he said, the parking revision has turned into an ordeal.

"Some of them are using walkers, a lot of them are using canes," Di Quattro said. "One dear friend I've known since the 1950s comes down from Everett, and he uses a cane, and he had to park quite a ways away, and it was a struggle for him to make it there."

Yes, said Di Quattro, answering the key explanation officials have given him, Auburn needs to grow, and in the long run all downtown businesses, stand to benefit from the influx of new downtown residents that the future Trek Apartments on the old Cavanaugh block, and Teutsch Partners possible senior apartments on South Division Street expect to bring within two years.

It's the short term, and the potential loss of customers within that interval, that worries Di Quattro, who bought the restaurant only last November.

"We know that Auburn needs to grow. It will grow, and hopefully it will be a benefit to all of us. But in the short term it is hurting some of the elderly. What they are asking for is short-term help from the council to help the elderly get around downtown, to get to the stores they need to get to and to provide parking nearby," Di Quattro said.

Mayor Nancy Backus spoke to smooth ruffled feathers.

"We are still looking at options for parking in that area," Backus said. "It's not a foregone conclusion that it's going to stay the way it is. We're still working on it."

Part of the complication, Backus added, is "the way the City owns" some of those properties.

Some of the property, Backus said, "is considered a right of way, and you can't lease out right-of-way properties... within that whole parcel where our property line is now. (The question is how) we could bring it all in perhaps as one parcel to better utilize that space. "

The City of Auburn in late December sold the spots 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.

City Economic Development Director Doug Lein told the Auburn Reporter recently 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 lot represents a solution to both problems.

Here, according to City records, is what happened.

Teutsch Partners, LLC had been 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 would need the portion of the parking lot that the bank owned directly across A Street Southeast and allowd bank employees to park in.

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 it 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, which promptly closed on its purchase of the Gambini block.

In lieu of those 16 spaces acquired by Teutsch Partners, the City gave Chase a permanent easement on those 16 controversial 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.

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