Council considers finance plan for downtown parking deck

Amendment 78 to the Arkansas Constitution governs how cities may borrow money and requires a five-year payback. City officials say five years is not enough time to generate enough parking revenue to pay back a loan, so the only option remaining is issuing bonds.

The first step in moving forward with Mayor Lioneld Jordan’s downtown parking deck project was taken Tuesday night when the Fayetteville City Council heard the mayor’s financing plan.

Jordan wants authorization to issue up to $6.5 million in bonds secured by paid parking revenue for the project, a plan that city finance director Paul Becker says is the only prudent way to fund construction of a parking deck in the Dickson Street area.

Becker said finding money in the city’s budget would be next to impossible and obtaining a bank construction loan would likely be subject to Amendment 78, a law that governs how cities may borrow and that requires a five-year payback.

“This way, we can spread it out to 25 years and that’s why a bond is much more attractive,” said Becker.

Of the money raised through bond debt, Becker said that the project would likely only require borrowing roughly $6.25 million.

After debt service costs, underwriting and other fees are paid, city officials have estimated that about $5.5 million would be available for actual deck construction.

Both Becker and Jordan stressed that the council’s authorization of the bonds wouldn’t mean they’d be issued anytime soon (see estimated timline).

“I’m trying to set a budget for what we have to work with,” said Jordan. After that, Jordan said he plans to leave plenty of opportunity for public input and council approval of the location and design of the deck, things that his self-appointed parking deck committee have been discussing since late September.

Although a majority of Council members spoke in support for the financing plan, they ultimately chose to leave the proposal on its first reading and to take it up at the Nov. 15 meeting.