Artspace tenants upset over parking

Low-income residents expected parking rate of $15 per space

New low-income residents of Hamilton’s Artspace Lofts moved in with the expectation they would be able to rent $15-per-month spaces on the upper levels of the city-owned parking garage next door. Instead, about half the residents of the 42 apartments learned that a new downtown business neighbor, StarTek, has beaten them out, and claimed those lower-priced spaces.

Unfortunately for the residents, the $15-per-month rate wasn’t in their leases.

So now, residents of 222-224 High Street face higher prices for spaces on the garage’s two lowest levels — $38 or $48, depending on the level — or must find parking elsewhere.

Catherine Vance says she can’t afford those higher prices. So the 66-year-old retired Butler County employee is parking on the streets in spaces with two-hour limits, as her alternative. To avoid getting parking tickets, she must move her car three times each weekday — around 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

“Everybody in here’s on a fixed income,” said Vance, who moved in during December and lives on a pension and a small amount of Social Security. “That’s what this is — it’s income-based housing…. I myself, I live month-to-month. I can’t afford that.”

"The first ones that moved in did get spaces," Vance said. "But then as soon as StarTek opened, StarTek wanted to buy all the spaces on (levels) three, four and five. And they (city officials) gave them to them."

Holly Cole, the property manager for Columbus-based Wallick Communities, which manages Artspace, said she has been frustrated by the situation, because she learned of the change in status several months ago, only after residents started being rejected for the $15 rates.

“Our rents in the building range from $271 up, so somebody that can only afford $271 a month can’t additionally pay $50 per month to park there,” Cole said. “It’s been really frustrating, and you can’t get any solid answers.”

Hamilton Public Works Director Rich Engle said by email that the city agreed to lease StarTek 350 spaces on the garage’s upper three levels at $15 per spot. Businesses and residents of the nearby Mercantile Lofts have claim to another 60 spaces on those upper levels, he said.

And there’s bad news even for Artspace occupants like Mark Whitlock, who moved in during June, and started renting parking spaces before the StarTek agreement, Engle said.

“As the number of StarTek employees grows and demand for more parking spaces increases on Floors 3, 4 and 5, these renters will be asked to relocate,” Engle said. “At the present time, the city is not sure of the timing.”

The 550-vehicle parking garage behind Artspace has elevators, which seemed fortunate for Vance because she’s had surgeries on both knees, including a full-knee replacement, and recently reached the point where she can walk down steps normally, but still very gingerly.

As she moved her car to another space around the block before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Vance complained many of the upper-level spaces don’t seem to be in use yet. In fact, there was one vehicle on the top level at that time.

“I see them (StarTek employees) during the day, when they come to get their car, when they get off work,” Vance said. “There’s not that many people that are going in the garage.”

Cole said city officials have noted there’s a parking lot past the YMCA, “but that’s, again, $30 a month, and people can’t walk that far if they have groceries or something like that,” she said.

“To me, the city wanted something like this downtown,” Cole said. “But yet, it doesn’t seem like they want to help out with accommodating people in a situation like this, the parking. StarTek took over three floors of that, but StarTek is a place of employment, whereas this is a place of people living here, and I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to give them first dibs on a parking garage over somebody who lives downtown and needs it 24 hours a day.”

Cole said she also has heard the lower-level rates may soon climb to $58 and $68 on garage’s two lower levels.

Engle in his email did not confirm those amounts, but did say, “There have been very preliminary discussions internally to consider raising monthly lease rates for Floors 1 and 2. Again this is not finalized and appropriate legislation will need to be passed by City Council before it becomes effective.”

It’s possible city leaders will take steps to reduce monthly parking rates for downtown residents and workers, Engle said.

“The reduced rate has not been established and appropriate legislation will need to be passed by City Council before it will become effective,” he said.

“They wanted people up here (downtown), yet they’re not willing to help us out,” said Vance, who added she and other residents are considering attending a city council meeting to seek help.

Councilman Timothy Naab, who closely followed development of the Artspace occupancy, was out of town during the day Wednesday and was unavailable to comment.

City administrators noted that as part of its application for tax credits, Artspace promised it would lower monthly apartment rents by $2o to help residents afford monthly parking. Cole said Artspace in fact does credit residents’ rent by that amount. But the calculation that was used in making the parking costs affordable was based on the $15 rate, she said.

Nick Graham contributed to this story.

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