Portland's two largest parking companies are fuming about the city's recent decision to award a $30 million garage management contract to a Nashville firm.

Finding themselves united is an odd twist for City Center Parking and Star Park, which, in addition to their extensive parking operations, are large downtown property owners.

The companies, whose deep ties to elected officials and other Portland businesses give them an in at City Hall, are normally rivals. But they're on the same side in formally protesting the city's April 28 decision to select Nashville's Central Parking System to manage the city's six SmartPark garages starting July 1.

Among the local companies concerns are an alleged conflict of interest, racial insensitivity and the prospect of doubled rates for users of SmartPark garages. The award is also curious, given City Hall's "buy local" focus.

"Despite having no Portland office, no local validation, monthly parking or audit departments, no parking garages in Portland (having recently been canceled from its only parking garage contract for not meeting performance standards) and having its security responsibilities taken away before the start of the contract, Central Parking was judged most qualified," wrote Greg Goodman, president of City Center Parking, in a May 7 protest letter copied to all five city commissioners. "How is that possible?"

The SmartPark garages include 3,825 spaces and generate more than $10 million in annual revenues. Goodman's company held the contract from 1985 until 2003; a smaller local rival, Star Park, owned by the Schlesinger family, wrested the contract away in 2003.

Originally, the city planned to award the three-year contract in February but extended the competitive process after amending bid specifications eight times for the five firms seeking the contract.

The parking contract is important to City Hall for two reasons. First, the cash-strapped city depends on the revenue parking generates. And as the lowest-cost provider of parking, SmartPark garages set the baseline for fees charged by all other parking lots in the city.

In addition to concerns about Central Parking System's qualifications, Goodman raised a serious accusation against Charles Dummett, the city employee in charge of the selection committee for the Bureau of Transportation.

"Dummett was a prior manager at Central Parking in Washington, D.C., before taking the job in Portland," Goodman wrote in his letter. "It would appear Mr. Dummett has a conflict of interest."

Goodman accuses Dummett of failing to note Central's loss of its only local contract—which called for the company to manage Oregon Health & Science University's parking but which Goodman says was "terminated by OHSU due to substandard performance."

OHSU spokesman Jim Newman says OHSU employed Central from 2006 to late 2009, but then hired Star Park, feeling "a local partner would likely be a better match.

Goodman also says Dummett contacted the Portland Business Alliance to see if PBA rather than Central could provide the security services currently provided by four minority chambers of commerce. He says Dummett's intervention shows Central couldn't provide the required services and the city should reduce Central's score on a key criterion—diversity—for "not using a minority contractor." (Dummett declined to comment on the protest letters.)

Diversity is a big deal in the city's parking calculations. One of the main reasons Star Park snatched the contract from Goodman's much larger company in 2003 was that Star Park teamed up with three (now four) minority chambers of commerce to manage the garages.

In a May 5 letter, Star Park manager Virgil Ovall highlights that point, writing, "Central Parking currently has no [minority] contracts or contractors in the Portland area whereas Star Park and the Alliance of Minority Chambers present a clear mission to support diversity in our city that is not adequately reflected in the scoring differences between our proposal and the winning bid."

Ovall also slammed the city for rewarding the Nashville parking company for proposing to raise rates and lower employee pay, which Ovall says conflict with the city's stated goal of using SmartPark to support the "economic vitality of the central city."

The Tennessee company's bid, Ovall says, proposes to double the rates at SmartPark, which are currently the cheapest in Portland at $1.50 an hour. Second, Central would shift management jobs from Portland to Nashville (Star Park employs 71 people related to the city contract, including six managers) and would pay significantly lower wages to rank-and-file employees than Star Park does.

Barb Gibson, the city procurement officer overseeing the contract, says it is uncommon for bidders to protest a city decision. Gibson says the chief procurement officer and the Transportation Bureau are examining the unhappy bidders' objections and will respond soon. Portland Bureau of Transportation spokeswoman Cheryl Kuck says PBOT and Mayor Sam Adams, who oversees the bureau, will wait until procurement finishes its work before commenting.

Goodman, whose family is the largest owner of downtown real estate in addition to dominating the parking business, argued strenuously in his letter for city officials to keep in mind the historical roles his family and the Schlesingers have played in Portland.

"These are companies and families that have longstanding relationships in our community," Goodman wrote, "as well as something at stake based on the success of the Smart Park system."

Png image and PDF, respectively, of City Center Parking's Email and Letter of Protest.

PDF of Star Park' Letter.