Parking debts pile up after late payments at River Place

River Place managers in debt to City of Wilmington for parking

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Paid parking is big business for municipalities in the area, with the City of Wilmington making millions of dollars each year from parking revenues. Ask anyone who has been downtown and had a meter expire, the city’s parking enforcement is strict — but the private developer and management company at the city’s flagship public-private development known as River Place has routinely been late with payments.

The City of Wilmington entered into a public-private development known as River Place, spending more than $20 million of taxpayer’s money for a parking deck. The deck would serve as a replacement to the now demolished Water Street Parking Deck and as a part of the agreement, the city would get 403 new parking spaces at the parking garage, although only 168 would be for public use.

The rest of the spaces would be reserved for the condo owners and those living in the apartments at the development. According to Parking Manager Chance Dunbar, the agreement is for 235 parkers each month, at $100 a spot, meaning each month the city should be getting $23,500. However, payments from the company have been sporadic and consistently late.

In fact, when asked if the company responsible for paying the city had made a single on-time payment, the city responded by simply saying: “To date? No.”

The Water Street Parking Deck before it's demolition
The Water Street Parking Deck before it's demolition (Source: City of Wilmington)

That was on Feb. 26, 2021.

Since then, and since WECT began asking questions about the late payments, the account has been brought up to date and is current according to Dunbar.

In order to understand the parking situation, it’s important to understand how River Place operates. The city partnered with East West Partners (EWP) to develop River Place. In turn, EWP hired a company called Greystar to manage the apartments and other day-to-day operations.

“East West Partners has hired Greystar as a turnkey solution for property management and to manage the financial obligations of River Place,” according to Margee Herring, spokesperson for EWP. “According to Greystar and an accounting of their conversation with Chance Dunbar of the City, all accounts are current, with the exception of a $500 discrepancy that is being further researched.”

While the accounts have been brought up to date, the payment history shows a pattern of late and partial payments.

Parking payments are due at the first of each month, unlike a water bill that bills at the end of a cycle. In order to determine usage, the city pre-charges for parking for the upcoming month. The city releases a bill towards the middle of the month before, with the expectation that the bill is paid by the first of the month, Dunbar said.

But that has not been happening.

Late and partial payments

Although the beginning balance started May 1, 2020, the first payment, which encompassed the months of May and June, was not made until July 29, according to the city’s ledger. At that point, the July payment was past due 29 days with August’s bill due in a matter of days, resulting in thousands in unpaid fees.

By September 1, 2020, the outstanding balance had increased to $76,500 and by October it climbed to $86,750.

Greystar did make payments during this time period, however, several of them were only partial payments that were months late.

On Sept. 8, Greystar made a $6,000 payment for June — a bill due roughly three months prior. Then, at the end of September, a payment for $7,250 was made to the city for the month of September, well shy of the full $23,500 bill.

It’s a similar story across the board; for the past year Greystar continued to make payments months late and in seemingly random, partial amounts.

Dunbar chalked some of this up to the learning curve of all parties involved, while a spokesperson for Greystar said delays were caused because offices were not yet set up and the company was not receiving invoices consistently.

A spokeswoman for Greystar acknowledged there had been some delays in payments from the beginning and said that since then the city and the company have set up a wire transfer system to ensure on-time payments.

Also, although the first bills began in May, the spokeswoman said that the city did not get the bill out to the company until August, which caused some backlog with the payments.

And, although the payments have been late continuously, parkers have faced no repercussions for their delinquency.

The same cannot be said for other long-term parking customers who pay for spaces in other decks across the city. The city rents spaces to downtown businesses, residents, and others who want to reserve spaces; however, they are much less forgiving if individuals are late with payments.

“Our policy currently is normally, around the 15th of each month — if the account is past due — we can and we will most likely block access to those parking cards. There’s not a late fee, per se — there is a $5 reactivation fee,” Dunbar said.

Records show, and spokespeople for the city and Greystar confirm, that payments in 2021 have been mostly on time, though rarely by the first of the month like the city has requested.

According to an email from Dunbar to Greystar, as of March 10, it has paid off its balance and is current on its account with the city.

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