The French Market Corp. will more than double its contribution to city coffers this year after seeing significant financial benefits from taking over the operation of three city-owned parking lots itself.
That decision followed a dispute over the awarding of a contract to run the lots, with one bidder charging that French Market officials were trying to rig the process to benefit another company.
By not contracting out the lots’ operation, the agency has saved money that, combined with a “slight increase” in revenue, has resulted in higher profits that can be returned — in part — to the city, Jon Smith, executive director of the French Market Corp., said this week.
The agency transferred about $1 million to the city last year under the terms of a 1992 agreement requiring it to provide 20 percent of the net revenue it generates to the city. This year, with a major boost from in-house operation of the parking lots, that number will jump to about $2.4 million — an amount officials estimate they can sustain for at least three years.
“The French Market Corp. continues to look for ways to increase its contributions to the city,” said Demetric Mercadel, president of the market’s board of directors. “We are grateful to be in a position to contribute our parking revenues, and, as we continue to increase profitability with our parking operations, we intend for that contribution to grow.”
Much of the higher profit came from automating the lots, which are behind Cafe du Monde, on Esplanade Avenue and on Elysian Fields Avenue.
“We have already automated two of our three lots and are in the process of automating the third,” Smith said. “It became obvious that with the operational efficiency of automating the lots, combined with a leap in operational savings, that bringing parking operations in house was the correct thing to do.”
The French Market Corp. took over management of the lots last year after their operations were left in limbo when the market’s contract with SP Plus expired and that firm was pitted against Premium Parking for the contract.
That bidding process was thrown into disarray when Ann Duplessis, then the interim director of the French Market Corp., altered Premium’s bid after saying the company had not included some expenses.
Premium’s owner, Jim Huger, protested, saying it was improper for the French Market Corp. to change the bid without consulting the company. He said the agency also failed to inform his company of higher parking rates that would have affected the bids.
Huger said the agency appeared to be trying to fix the process to ensure the contract went to SP Plus, a partnership between a national company and local businessman Ronnie Burns.
The French Market Corp. took over the management of the lots after the breakdown of that bidding process.
The extra money from the French Market will go toward “public safety, street repairs and parks and recreation — all of which better residents’ quality of life and draw more tourism dollars,” city Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said.
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