July 8, 2014

Business falls off at Patrick Cannon’s parking firm

E-Z Parking ran 16 public lots in March, when Cannon was arrested, according to information on the company’s website and an Observer review. That number has fallen to 11 as of July – not including lots solely operated on Carolina Panthers game days.

Months after former Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested on corruption charges, the parking company he founded in Charlotte has lost about a third of the public lots it managed.

E-Z Parking ran 16 public lots in March, when Cannon was arrested, according to information on the company’s website and an Observer review. That number has fallen to 11 as of July – not including lots solely operated on Carolina Panthers game days.

Two contracts the company lost were for uptown parking decks with thousands of spaces. The primary contractor on those decks cited Cannon’s arrest in its decision to end its subcontracting arrangement with E-Z Parking.

Cannon’s company also lost the contract for three surface lots on Morehead Street.

The former mayor has resigned his position at E-Z Parking, co-founder and president Jeff Feemster said. Cannon remains a partial owner of the firm, state records indicate.

Last fall, Cannon’s business managed 25,000 spaces in Charlotte. The company now operates about 15,000, E-Z Parking general manager Jay Ferguson said.

“In any time period you’re going to gain business and lose business,” Ferguson said. “We’ve proven that we have the tools to manage through those industry cycles.”

Business could erode further in the coming months. At least one major uptown parking contract, for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority lot on Caldwell Street, is being reviewed. The CRVA says the negotiations are not tied to the allegations against Cannon.

Carolinas HealthCare System, E-Z Parking’s largest client, is also reviewing its parking deal. Spokesman Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday the review is part of the hospital system’s “normal process of reviewing long-term contracts.” That contract involves about 12,000 spaces. The organization decided in January to re-bid the contract and is putting together a request for proposals.

E-Z Parking’s lost contracts are part of the fallout from the nearly four-year federal investigation that led to Cannon’s arrest and a guilty plea on a federal corruption charge. The former mayor acknowledged accepting bribes in exchange for the promise of political influence. Cannon is awaiting a sentencing hearing later this year that could send him to prison for five years or more.

Ferguson said the company fielded calls from concerned clients after Cannon’s arrest. He said the company has been forthright about the situation and has kept clients informed.

E-Z Parking officials declined to comment specifically about the lost business. “Some aspects of the experience have been difficult,” Feemster said.

Instead, they defended the operations of the company and praised its employees. E-Z Parking employs about 50 people year-round and another 50 for seasonal work.

“People have just been great about tuning out the noise and doing their jobs,” Ferguson said. Cannon could not be reached for comment.

Uptown business

The two uptown decks for which E-Z Parking lost contracts, Seventh Street Station and TransAmerica Square Garage, are owned by Bank of America and serve hundreds of its employees. Chicago-based Standard Parking holds the primary parking contract for the bank, but E-Z Parking had managed those two garages day-to-day as a subcontractor.

Those ties were severed after Cannon’s arrest, Standard Parking chief administrative officer Michael K. Wolf said.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding affiliations with firms having even the appearance of impropriety,” he said.

E-Z Parking declined to comment specifically about losing the contract. “I don’t feel E-Z Parking’s integrity has been in question,” Ferguson said.

Regardless, losing those two uptown decks is especially noteworthy for E-Z Parking in light of its history. Cannon has said he was inspired to launch E-Z Parking after speaking with longtime Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.

In 1996, McColl called Cannon asking for names of minority contractors in the parking and security industries. Cannon researched the parking landscape, and called McColl back.

“Mr. McColl, I think I found somebody who understands the parking business,” Cannon has recalled saying in the past. “Me.”

He recruited Feemster, who had been working as a senior project manager with Central Parking for five years, to join in the venture. The fledgling E-Z Parking managed three properties for Bank of America and gradually expanded.

Though Feemster and Cannon shared ownership in the firm, Feemster said he was in charge of day-to-day management.

“I’ve always been the primary person in operations, and have run the company since its inception,” Feemster said.

A Bank of America spokeswoman said the company was not involved in Standard Parking’s decision to end its relationship with E-Z Parking.

The decks lost since Cannon’s arrest follow two other significant Bank of America deck losses since 2012. E-Z Parking lost its subcontracting role at the Fifth Third Center in 2012 and at the Wake Forest University City Center in 2013 after Bank of America sold the buildings.

Lots near Morehead Street

E-Z Parking has also lost contracts for three lots near Morehead Street, on property owned by the Uptown Cabaret. The signs have been replaced by those of a competitor, Preferred Parking.

Brian Dominick, who owns the nightclub, did not respond to requests for comment. Preferred Parking CEO Roger Stacks also did not return calls.

Preferred Parking owns land near the intersection of Fifth and Graham streets, the site of a historic firehouse. According to court documents, undercover agents posing as businessmen spoke with Cannon numerous times about opening a nightclub at that location. Preferred Parking was not involved in the sting in any way, Stacks wrote in a letter to the Observer.

E-Z Parking has long managed the 330-space lot across from the NASCAR Hall of Fame on behalf of the CRVA. The tourism organization put all of its third-party contracts under review last year, spokeswoman Laura White said, and is currently in negotiations with E-Z Parking. CRVA has always dealt with Feemster, White said.

The decision to review the contract came before Cannon’s arrest. “It wasn’t any kind of knee-jerk reaction to the allegations,” White said.

CRVA is considering ending the contract with E-Z Parking and bringing management of the lot in-house, White said. The organization already manages parking in-house at the NASCAR Hall of Fame deck off Brevard Street.

At least three of the lots E-Z Parking continues to manage are typically only used on Carolina Panthers game days. Team spokesman Charlie Dayton said the company will continue to manage those lots.

Staff writers Ely Portillo and Rick Rothacker contributed.

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