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No such thing as parking for free?

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Cummins is proposing taking a parking lot at Washington and Seventh streets, shown Wednesday, July 16, 2014, and turning it into greenspace as it continues to try to find someone to develop it.
Cummins is proposing taking a parking lot at Washington and Seventh streets, shown Wednesday, July 16, 2014, and turning it into greenspace as it continues to try to find someone to develop it.

A vacant downtown parking lot owned by Cummins Inc. that has evolved into a “free parking” zone may disappear.

The area is a gravel lot to the east of the Cummins parking garage at northwest the corner of Sixth and Washington streets. About 40 or so vehicles have been parking there weekdays since the garage was finished in September.

There are no signs designating any time limit for the parking spots and no signs designating the lot as private property, although it is, said Catina Furnish, real estate manager with Cummins Inc.

In addition to working on the project about the gravel lot, Furnish serves on the city’s parking committee, which is evaluating options to improve downtown parking.

Some of the parking spots frequently are used by Cummins employees.

Prasad Gandhi said he was told by Cummins it is a company parking lot, and he would need to use his company parking pass to use it.

“We’ve been told that lot (the parking garage) and this lot is Cummins parking,” he said. “This is where I usually park. If it is full, we usually go inside. That’s easiest.”

Gandhi said he’s seen cars without the Cummins parking pass parked in the lot but wasn’t sure if they were members of the public or Cummins employees not using their parking passes.

An agreement between the city and Cummins allowing the company to build the garage required the company to build a brick façade over the east side of garage if the company couldn’t find a development for the gravel lot by October 2012.

Then, Cummins officials said the brick façade required by the city’s planning commission would cost about $500,000. The October deadline came and went without any discussion, Furnish said.

But when Cummins went before the plan commission regarding its proposed LiveWell Center nearby, questions about the parking garage came up.

Furnish said the company doesn’t think putting up a brick façade would benefit Columbus and would like to keep pursuing developments for the gravel lot.

In June, Furnish went before the commission to propose turning the lot into greenspace while the company continues to seek a developer.

That project would cost Cummins about $100,000 to landscape, she said.

She also asked for a three-year extension on the required brick façade, saying that Cummins is in negotiations with different companies to develop the lot.

“I’ve had conversations with multiple developers, both local and regional. We have a couple of opportunities that seem to be getting some energy behind them,” she said. “Before we would want to share anything publicly, we would want to have some contracts in place.”

Plan commission member Frank Jerome said removing the gravel lot parking would push more cars looking for parking spaces into the downtown area and create even more parking problems.

He said he would rather extend the time Cummins has to put up the brick façade and leave the lot the way it is.

Cummins has an alternate plan — instead of greenspace, the company would pave the gravel lot into a surface lot similar to other company parking, Furnish said.

It would have signage as a parking lot for Cummins employees, according to a company statement.

The plan commission said it wants to see more detailed plans on the greenspace proposal.

The commission members also thought a three-year extension in time to build the brick façade on the parking garage was too long and suggested a two- or 2½-year extension instead.

Furnish said she plans to present a final proposal for the landscaping to the plan commission at its Sept. 10 meeting.

Cummins decided it needed a parking garage when additional offices were added downtown on the west side of the Commons, Furnish said.

Previously, Cummins had an agreement with Columbus Realtors Jan and Rick Sprague to build a multilevel housing facility on the gravel lot, but financing for the deal fell through at the end of 2013.

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