COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio State University moved ahead Friday with what's believed to be the country's biggest privately operated parking system in a move the school says will raise billions for everything from more faculty members to extra student financial aid over the next 50 years.
The university's $483 million contract with an Australian company and a U.S. partner comes with a guarantee that caps annual parking rate increases at 5.5 percent for the contract's first 10 years. After that, increases fall to the lower of either 4 percent or the rate of inflation.
The university pushed the plan as a way of providing revenue at a time of declining public funding. The proposal had plenty of individual critics, but all the major university student and faculty groups supported it.
"It's part of the innovation that universities are facing as we try to deal with a future that's going to be funded in a very different way than in the past," university provost Joseph Alutto said after the trustees' unanimous vote.
Ohio State, the country's third-biggest university, will use the money to hire more faculty, provide more student aid, support the arts and humanities and pay for the university's bus services, the university said.
With interest, the $483 million will ultimately grow to about $8 billion over 50 years, which will provide $3.1 billion to those priority areas.
Under the plan to lease parking operations to Queensland, Australia-based QIC Global Infrastructure, the university would maintain ownership of its parking garages and spaces, which total more than 35,000 spaces.
The company's U.S. partner in the deal would be Hartford, Conn.-based LAZ Parking, which operates more than 600,000 spaces at more than 1,550 locations, with annual revenues of about $550 million. The company has more than 6,000 employees.
LAZ Parking manages various parking services for 11 universities and colleges, including Yale University, Boston College, University of California Berkley, Brown University, the University of Connecticut, George Washington University, San Diego State University and Thomas Jefferson University.
But those parking spaces total about 15,000, less than half of the Ohio State plan.
LAZ also operates much larger municipal parking plans, including 59,000 spaces for Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and 42,000 spaces for Massachusetts' Bay Transportation Authority.
LAZ chairman and CEO Alan Lazowski called the contract "a historic event in parking," saying no other university has ever signed such a big or lengthy contract.
He likened the job to contracting with a small city.
"You have the arena, you have the stadium, you have the medical center," Lazowski said. "We do all those types of operations in the thousands and thousands of spaces — it's not anything that we're not used to taking over operating on a day-to-day basis."
He said he hopes to hire as many of the existing employees as possible to ease the transition.
Selling parking operations to private operators is the latest trend on campuses involving the outsourcing of non-academic functions that started decades ago with food operations, then spread into campus bookstores and even dormitory operations.
More than one in three universities in 2011 were considering privatizing operations for short-term revenue, and more than four in 10 were looking at privatization for long-term revenue, according an Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities survey of 81 research universities plus six university systems.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.