Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More thoughts on transportation district funding

So the same day that I wrote about transit withholding taxes, a judge in New York State ruled that the creation of the mass transit district that included outlying counties was not an appropriate act by the state government.  See "MTA payroll tax ruling met with joy; transit authority plans appeal" from the Poughkeepsie Journal. From the article:

In his ruling Wednesday, Nassau County Justice R. Bruce Cozzens Jr. called the payroll tax a “special law” passed by a 60 percent majority vote in the Assembly and 52 percent majority vote in the state Senate that does not serve the entire state’s interest. “This law should have been, according to the state Constitution, passed with either a Home Rule message or by message of necessity with two-thirds vote in each house. This did not occur, therefore this law was passed unconstitutionally,” Cozzens wrote.

I don't agree with the judge as transit/transportation is not a legitimate state interest and because services typically cross jurisdictional boundaries, higher level governmental coordination is an appropriate state function and action, but then, I am not a lawyer, and maybe on technical grounds, the law wasn't passed properly.

We'll see what happens in the appeals process.

2.  I have been meaning to write yet again about the Allegheny County Regional Asset District in the context of the successful initiative in the Detroit area, where voters in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties agreed to a small property tax to fund the Detroit Institute of Arts.

While other arts institutions are interested in pursuing something similar ("Why Arts Managers Short of Cash Are Looking At Detroit " from the Wall Street Journal), for the most part they are looking at this issue in a piecemeal fashion.

Instead, the RAD as a concept addresses arts and cultural uses and funding in a very systematic manner, which for the most part is unprecedented at the center city-county level (Chicago has a Park District, but it's only operative within the city).

From  "Transit bailout with RAD funds does not pose threat to arts, Allegheny County executive says" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

For 2012, RAD allocated $84.1 million to 89 groups and amenities. About 32 percent went to libraries, another 31 percent to parks, 17 percent to sports venues, 10 percent to arts and cultural groups and 9 percent to big regional attractions such as Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

(Sacramento City and County have a combined Sacramento Regional Arts Facilities Financing Authority that funds capital improvements, not programs, in a similar fashion.) 

Because transit in Allegheny County has been barraged by massive cuts in funding and service since the 2008 real estate crash, it has been proposed that the Regional Asset District, which is funded by a 1% sales tax, also begin providing some bridge funding to the transit agency.  Also see "Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl cautious about idea to fund transit via asset district" from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Obviously, transit is a regional asset, and combining it with arts/culture/parks funding mechanisms isn't unreasonable.  Although arts groups, justifiably, are concerned about competition and likely over time the sales tax amount dedicated to the RAD would have to increase.

Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette.  Old and new arenas in Pittsburgh.  The old arena, and the 28 acres of land it takes up, will be redeveloped.  (From "Hiring in the Hill District: the new arena and hotel are meeting goals: A community benefits agreement places Hill District residents, minorities in jobs at Consol Energy Center and Cambria Suites hotel.")

3.  Many places have parking districts, and I argue that such districts should be termed "transportation districts" and that systematic plans for improving transportation and streetscape infrastructure be devised and funded over time with revenues from these districts.  When they are parking districts, for the most part (DC's performance parking districts are an exception) monies are only spent on parking.

Anyway, the neighborhood association in the Hill District in Pittsburgh is arguing that some of the revenues from parking at the Consol Energy Center Arena should also be to fund neighborhood improvements.   See "Hill District seeks more arena-area parking money for development" and "SEA urged to use a portion of parking revenue to support Hill" from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  (The creation of special taxing districts for such improvements are not unusual.)

From the second article:

Carl Redwood lobbied the SEA board Thursday to get behind his "A Dollar A Car For The Hill" campaign and to ensure that the plans to redevelop the former Civic Arena site include affordable housing and space for Hill businesses.

This is a great point, and one that should become part of standard practice when it comes to the placement of sports arenas and stadiums.

A parking tax fee could be part of a mitigation package related to the insertion of stadiums and arenas into neighborhoods.

Of course, when those facilities are inserted somewhat seemlessly into the urban fabric, like the Verizon Center in DC or Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, it might be harder to justify this as a parking tax, because most people get there by other means.

Therefore, a general mitigation tax on each ticket--not just on parking--is something to consider as well.

4.  Given how the Washington Nationals continue to refuse to consider paying towards the extension of subway service for patrons attending late games that go beyond the time the system normally closes ("Nationals ask District to pay to keep Metro open late for fans" from WTOP Radio), it's worth rementioning how, also in Pittsburgh, Alco Parking, Pittsburgh Stadium Authority, the Pittsburgh Steelers Football Team, and Rivers Casino are subsidizing the provision of free T transit to the new transit stops there, the Allegheny and North Shore stops on the new North Shore Connector, which opened up a few months ago.  See "Trips on North Shore T will be free" from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  (Pittsburgh has a free transit zone where riding on the T is free within Downtown.  This zone used to cover bus service as well, but that was ended in the face of revenue losses.)

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