A law firm is paying the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) just $1 a year for 10 sweet parking spaces in the Authority’s swanky gated lot in Atlantic City, according to a document released to Route 40 as part of a freedom-of-information request.
The lot abuts Gordon’s Alley, an historic Atlantic City retail lane, where businesses and workers said they’ve been adversely affected by the lack of convenient parking.
The agreement between CRDA and the law firm is ridiculous for a few reasons:
- The other weekend, I rode the jitney and met people who live and work in Atlantic City (and pay their taxes) and who can’t afford to drive to work because the parking costs* in this crazy city are too high. Apparently, they’re just not working for the right companies.
- CRDA’s main source of revenue is from parking fees. Yup. The millionaire government agency – which is tasked with investing casino taxes in ‘economic development and community projects’ – earned $17.7 million last year (26 percent of its total revenue) in parking fees**, presumably after some suckers who aren’t lawyers actually PAID to park in Atlantic City.
- Those parking fees mostly come from a kind of tax that is paid by the boardwalk casinos*** to CRDA. The casinos pay $3 a day for every car that parks in their garage. Back in 2005, CRDA was so confident about its long-term prospects for squeezing Atlantic City visitors through parking fees that it issued $292 million in bonds tied to future parking revenues. That is so much debt that this year (while it’s earning just $1 from a law firm’s 10 city spots) it needs to pay $9 million just in interest payments on those bonds. Still, there’s probably good reason for CRDA to be optimistic when, even after some closures, there were 36,179 casino parking spaces at the end of last year.
- Some of those poor suckers who paid to park in Atlantic City last year were victims of price gouging by casinos and others during the now notorious free beach concerts (free because CRDA paid for them).
- It’s good that casinos pay that parking tax, because CRDA is TERRIBLE at managing its own parking business, and not just because it lets swanky lawyers park for $1 a year in its own lot. You know the Wave Garage, where it costs $12 to $15 a day to park? Yeah. CRDA owns that and last year it made a loss of $1.5 million on the place.
- Throw into the mix some now closed casinos with a whole load of unavailable parking, and a city that is so close to bankruptcy that it is on a mission to increase its revenue from parking violations, and you have one hot Atlantic City mess.
The law firm that got this parking deal is DLA Piper, whose Atlantic City office is led by former Senator William Gormley, who was involved with setting up CRDA. DLA Piper’s office has three lawyers in Atlantic City, according to its Web site. Gormley, the real estate lawyer who signed the agreement with CRDA, and a spokesperson for the law firm did not respond to requests for comment.
The agreement was signed for CRDA by John Palmieri, the Authority’s executive director. Palmieri told Route 40 that DLA Piper had been using the space since before CRDA took ownership of the lot about four years ago. CRDA, after a couple of years, put up a fence and a gate to keep out some users who were “creating problems, broken bottles and that kind of thing, damage and things like that,” but DLA Piper requested to continue using the lot. The agreement was put into writing after questions from CRDA’s insurance provider, Palmieri said, adding that there was no incident or event that prompted the October 2015 agreement to be written up. “We permitted them to continue to park and we said we needed to put it into a license agreement to make it a more formal arrangement,” he said.
Regarding Atlantic City residents who can’t afford to park close to their place of work, Palmieri said he thought that was “a stretch” since there is on-street parking and a variety of privately-operated lots that he believes charge $4 to $5 a day. Workers at nearby businesses have told us that parking is a serious problem for them and for customers. Le Grand Fromage, a live music venue, closed its doors in recent months amid the parking squeeze.
“We have a pretty good public transportation system, that’s good to know, the jitney’s affordable, it travels through just about every district,” Palmieri said. “I think that’s a good service, people should appreciate that.” (Palmieri earned $225,000 last year. The average hourly wage for a retail salesperson in the Atlantic City area was $11.44 in May.)
Palmieri also said that CRDA does not run its own staff lot as a business and it is “kind of a different thing” compared to the revenue that the Authority receives from casino parking and its parking garage near Atlantic City’s outlet stores.
*The casinos have to provide free parking for employees but no other businesses are under this obligation.
**CRDA says in its 2015 financial statement that it earned $17.7 million from parking fees while the Casino Control Commission says it allocated $18.7 million to CRDA from casino parking fees. We have no clue why the figures are different.
***The Marina District casinos also collect a parking fee that goes to pay the South Jersey Transportation Authority for building the Atlantic City-Brigantine connector.
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