Seattle mulling plans to sell money-losing parking garage

SEATTLE -- A city-owned parking garage in downtown Seattle is bleeding money, and it could soon be sold for a loss.

Financial irregularities are also coming to light at the Pacific Place garage, and Seattle police are looking at whether someone's been skimming the till.

While repairmen fix a broken gate that lets shoppers into the Pacific Place garage, members of the Seattle City Council are trying to fix the garage's financial problems.

Pacific Place helped establish a downtown retail core that adds sales tax revenue to city coffers, but the parking operation has been losing money for years, despite the scarcity of downtown parking.

A city finance team is advocating selling the property, even if that means losing money on the deal.

"The deal, overall I think, is very favorable to the city," said Fred Podesta of the Finances and Administrative Services Department. "There's a big upside in tax revenue. There's a downside on the operations, so that's the question. Do we want to keep the operation?"

Council members also learned about irregularities discovered in the number of monthly parking passes issued and how some fees never made it to city coffers.

"It's easy to see where it could be theft, but it's not something we can prove yet," Podesta said.

The Problem Solvers did their own analysis of potential losses to taxpayers and found that proceeds from 100 parking passes -- at $285 per month -- never made it to the city treasury.

Losses could total more than $340,000 if the discrepancy has gone on since the last audit, which was roughly a year ago.

Seattle police are now investigating the issue.

"It reflects badly in that there's now been a series of irregularities," said Councilman Tim Burgess.

Councilman Nick Licata originally voted against the garage because of concessions to business, but he concedes that it does have its benefits.

"At that time I thought it was a bad deal," Licata said. "Today, we're losing money on it. It still looks like a bad deal. The counter argument is that we helped revitalize downtown."

The city has an offer of $55 million to sell the garage to the company that already operates the mall. The Seattle Finance Committee will look over the deal before sending it to the full council.