Indiana University Bloomington

IU trustees at 'decision point' on parking asset strategy

  • Oct. 17, 2013

By Jon Blau

IU’s trustees could lean toward keeping and maximizing the university’s parking assets, rather than leasing lots in Indianapolis and Bloomington to a private company, as the board prepares to hear a presentation Thursday weighing the financial incentives of either approach.

The idea of parking privatization was floated first during a presentation by former trustee William Strong about public-private partnerships to generate revenue. Since then, IU’s chief financial officer and former treasurer, MaryFrances McCourt, has been in charge of analyzing the pros and cons of a long-term parking lease. The university has consulted with the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, as well as Walker Parking Consultants, to look at the possibility of outsourcing parking operations at IU’s two core campuses, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

McCourt was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but IU spokesman Mark Land said the university is at a “decision point,” and McCourt will offer her findings and a recommendation to the board at Franklin Hall as part of the trustees’ meetings Thursday and Friday on Bloomington’s campus.

“You can sell it and get the money today, and that’s the present,” Board of Trustees President Thomas E. Reilly said Wednesday. “But if you keep it, what do you have to do to improve it and get the same amount of money in the future? Maybe we can do better if we keep it ourselves.”

Strong, a co-CEO at Morgan Stanley, had raised the idea after his company advised Ohio State in its agreement to privatize parking, which brought in $483 million over 50 years. But campus constituencies, including the Communications Workers of America, Local 4730, have expressed displeasure with the idea of IU relinquishing its control over parking operations.

While Reilly didn’t want to make any predictions on a decision before the meeting, he said it’s possible some provisional action could be reached at the meeting, most likely taking the university down a path without privatization. Another study could be commissioned to further look at parking operations and what improvements might need to be made to make them more profitable, bringing the issue back on the table in February.

Then again, Reilly is only one of nine voices.

“They might say ‘We can make the same amount of money if we keep it and do A, B or C,’” Reilly said of the university’s findings, but cautioning there might be some trustees who don’t want to do “A, B or C.”

Randall Tobias, one of two new trustees added to the board in June, said it’s a “challenging time for higher education” and the board would be “derelict in its duty” if it didn’t examine ways to bring in more revenue. The comparison may be apples and oranges, but Tobias, the former board president of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, said the airport had success leveraging its parking assets to actually reduce the cost of flying. With the cost of education always increasing, Tobias said the board needs to find ways to bring in money, which could be accomplished by privatizing parking or by IU keeping the lots and finding efficiencies private companies would have used themselves.

While trustee Pat Shoulders said he has been open to discussion on the idea of parking privatization, he has never really been sold on the notion that it was necessary. What he doesn’t want to see is a debate for a long-term lease, centered around the idea of bringing in more revenue, becoming the sole basis for a discussion about changing parking prices.

“The original proposal concerning parking privatization had to do with raising capital. It had to do with raising millions of dollars for unspecified needs,” Shoulders said. “I don’t want to see the discussion morphed into a pretext for raising parking rates based on some undetermined ‘market’ for parking.”

Media School

The Trustees’ other “hot potato,” as Reilly put it, is the merger of the School of Journalism and the departments of communication and culture and telecommunications.

But this issue -- contentious because of its ramifications for the merging pieces, including their individual prestige, funding assets and faculty numbers -- seems to have been smoothed over, he said. IU’s School of Journalism Alumni Board has conditionally supported Provost Lauren Robel’s proposal, and a committee has been formed to explore ways to honor Ernie Pyle, the journalism school’s namesake, if journalism moves into Franklin Hall.

Reilly said the merger should help media-focused students gain access to more multimedia production tools, allowing IU to match other colleges that have moved toward programs with more of a digital focus.

“It was becoming clear that other universities were doing this because kids were wanting to do these other programs -- because they see print journalism drying up,” Reilly said.

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.