Springfield Doesn’t Need a Garage Sale

The headline in the local newspaper read, ‘Springfield Mulls Garage Sale,’ or something to that effect. Given the current sad state of fiscal affairs here, one might have given that a quick look and proceeded to conjure up images of a giant tag sale staged to help raise some revenue to pay teachers or keep the lights on.

Reading further, however, we come to learn that Springfield officials, including members of the Finance Control Board, are in preliminary talks with the state about a possible sale of one of the parking garages run by the Springfield Parking Authority to the Mass. Convention Center Authority, which runs the recently opened MassMutual Center.

The theory goes that the convention authority can benefit from owning and operating the 1,300-space Civic Center Parking Garage, located across East Court Street from the MassMutual Center, thus gaining a steady source of parking for events. Meanwhile, the cash-strapped city could pocket some much-needed revenue.

While all this might sound good, such a transaction would ultimately make as much sense as that other kind of garage sale.

Yes, Springfield needs the revenue. But what it doesn’t need to do is start messing with one of the few real assets it has left in its efforts to draw businesses and consumers to its downtown: accessible, affordable parking.

Selling the Civic Center garage to the state will, we believe, create fewer parking opportunities downtown, which will inevitably drive up the cost of the spaces still in the inventory, which will eventually impact a wide array of businesses in the downtown area.

Which is why we hope these ‘preliminary’ talks don’t go any further.

Before we elaborate, let’s return to the subject of parking in Springfield. For some, it’s a sore subject, but in reality, car owners and business owners have it better here than they have it in any other large city in the Northeast.

Most don’t see it that way, but this stems from the notion that people tend to regard Springfield, and the region as a whole, as a place where people shouldn’t have to pay to park. When the Big E started charging people to park, for example, area residents got angry. When the price at the Big E went from $3 to $5, people went ballistic.

That’s because they have no perspective — unless they’ve attended a Red Sox game recently. Only then can they fully understand the true meaning of paying to park.

These individuals also understand that a parking lot or garage is a business, and it can be a very good business.

In Springfield, we’re fortunate. There is an ample supply of parking, some of it convenient to downtown businesses and some of it less so, and at rates — generally $40 to $90 a month — that would make people in Boston, Hartford, or Providence laugh. In general, these lots are secure, clean, and well-managed by the city’s parking authority. They should be considered assets, not buildings to be sold off to raise cash.

As we said, these are challenging times for downtown Springfield and companies doing business there. Incidents of violent crime have increased; one shop owner on Main Street was recently shot in broad daylight, and there was a mugging outside the TD Banknorth building. Business owners and those working downtown don’t need another reason to start thinking seriously about taking their act to the suburbs — the land of free parking.

They would have one if the Civic Center garage were to be sold to the convention authority. Such a transaction would adversely impact inventory and the price of remaining spaces.

If the city wants to raise revenue, it does have some properties that can be sold. Union Station comes to mind. Nothing is happening with the long-vacant train station and it appears that nothing is likely to happen anytime soon. The old jail is also available — although no one seems to want it — and there are other surplus buildings to be had.

What this struggling city doesn’t need is a garage sale — of any kind.