How much is a city parking lot worth? Answer: Nobody knows. Which is why Manchester must not proceed with a promising new development on Pearl Street without putting its parking lot up for auction.
VMD Companies of Andover, Mass., has proposed converting the parking lot into a nine-story building: six floors of housing for college students atop three floors of a public parking garage. It sounds like exactly the sort of development the city needs in that part of downtown. The lot is just north of Bridge Street at the corner of Pearl and Elm.
The hitch is that the developer wants to buy the lot, not bid on it at auction. City rules require that public land be sold at auction. Aldermen can suspend those rules if doing so is in the best interests of the city. In this case, that would be the wrong move.
Though the lot is assessed at between $1.3 million and $1.5 million, assessments are not always accurate. The way to determine the price is to auction the lot. Price is a function of supply and demand. The city has the supply, but no one knows what the demand is. An auction would discover it. Aldermen need to insist upon it.
In Boston last week, an auction for two Back Bay parking spaces started at $42,000 and ended at $560,000, a sum no one expected. The Pearl Street lot is a prime piece of downtown real estate. Aldermen would sell taxpayers short if they did not put it up for bid.