Magazine

Six Garages in NYC Closed; 6,700 Parkers Looking for Space

John Van Horn

In what some are calling a "textbook case" of government incompetence, the story of the demise of six garages and the resulting loss of 6,700 parking spaces should be studied by all in the parking industry as how not to maintain a garage system.
On the surface the story is pretty simple. Garages for Co-op City, a sprawling residential complex in the Bronx, were allowed to deteriorate over their nearly 40-year life to the point where one literally collapsed and five others had to be closed for repairs. No money was set aside over the years for maintenance, and there was no money available for repair.
But the story goes deeper than that. The State of New York built Co-op City then turned over the project to the city's internal board of directors, while holding the mortgage on the complex. At that time, money was never funded for garage repair. Basically, the huge original investment in the garages was allowed to waste away.
About 10 years ago, it was apparent that the garages needed repair but there was no money. The Co-op City board took the position that it was the state's problem (due to original faulty construction) and the dispute went to arbitration. The finding was in favor of Co-op City and the state was ordered to pay for repairs. But wait -- about the same time, there was an unrelated issue where Co-op City owed the state approximately the same amount as the state was to pay for garage repair. It was a wash, and no money was available for repair. But that is history now.
Three years ago when Riverbay Corp. took over management of the complex, it realized that the garages needed repair but that there was no funding for the nearly $80 million needed to complete the project. They began a "hold the line" program that is currently under funded. The state has authorized emergency funding of $4 million, but most of that will probably go to pave over green belts for temporary parking.
Predictable problem
All of the troubles caused by this maintenance problem at Co-op City were perfectly predictable to anyone with knowledge of parking structures. In fact, according to James Kopency and Robert Tober of Desman Associates, writing last month in Parking Today:
"The goal is to commit to a program of maintenance and corrective action. Believing that concrete is truly not forever is the first reality associated with the understanding of concrete. This should lead to the logical conclusion that an ongoing commitment to care and maintenance is essential, and should translate into the performance of periodic and ongoing condition assessment. The second reality is that deferred concrete maintenance will result in much higher repair costs than ongoing and periodic repairs because of geometrical progression of deterioration. This translates into the need for adequate budgeting and setting aside funds for annual maintenance of parking structures. The third reality is the need to perform timely corrective and preventive action. This results in performing periodic repairs to maintain the integrity of the parking structure which includes attention to the structural system, operational elements, and aesthetic concerns."
The amount to be set aside for maintenance varies with the type of garage construction and the location of the garage. A garage built in the snow belt, with salt and icy water being regularly tracked into the garage by vehicular traffic will have a much higher maintenance cost than one built in a less harsh climate.
Garage deterioration begins when water and salt seeps into cracks and gets to the rebar that supports the facility. It then causes the rebar to rust and as the rusting steel expands, the concrete cracks and resulting spalling occurs. The concrete literally chips off and the structural integrity of the garage is threatened.
This process can be slowed if drains are kept clear, salty water is washed out of the garage, and coatings and gaskets are properly maintained and regularly replaced. This activity won't completely abrogate the need for concrete replacement but can forestall such expensive activity and lessen its impact.
The need for repair at Co-op City appeared approximately 15 years ago, 20 years into the life of the garages. (Right on schedule, according to PT sources.)
The enormous 50,000-resident public housing complex is basically at the mercy of government bureaucrats. There is never enough money available, and the concept of setting aside funds for future repair is anathema to most politicians.
They can, however, react to the problems now. The Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, has placed his chief of staff, Peter Modonia, in charge of the parking emergency. The immediate problem is where to put the nearly 6,000 cars left spaceless by the garage closing.
Some quick solutions include changing street parking to angle (1,000 spaces), paving over some greenbelts in the area (1,500 spaces), potentially renting 1,000 spaces from a local shopping center (this deal has fallen through), and abandoning alternate side of the street parking rules in the area. At best, over 4,000 cars are out looking for space as you read this article.
Even Riverbay concedes that the parking problem is only one of many now looming. Last week, Co-op City's board stopped paying its mortgage, which is held by the state's Housing Finance Agency, said Bob Liff, a spokesman for Riverbay. It simply had no money, he explained.
Moreover, the residential complex has been threatened by a strike by members of the service union, Local 32BJ. Union representatives say they want a 14 percent raise, to bring salaries in line with what its workers make in other boroughs. Riverbay has said it already pays the workers in Co-op City what their peers earn at other buildings in the Bronx.
Why it has to come this and who is to blame depends on where you stand in the tangled politics of Co-op City. Some people blame the board, some Riverbay. Of course, the board chose Riverbay to run Co-op City, and the co-op tenants chose the board to run themselves.
The problem with the garages didn't begin last month, or even a decade ago. It began when the garages were built and money wasn't allocated on a regular basis for maintenance and set asides. Looks like Co-op city got caught in the "geometrical progression of deterioration" mentioned above. As one PT source put it, "this is an extreme example of everything else being paid first."

Article Abstract from September, 2003




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