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June 22, 2012

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — 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.

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.

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.

A message was left with LAZ, which in the past has declined to comment about the plan at Ohio state, one of the nation’s largest universities.

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.