- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2011

Numerous labels apply to D.C. lawyer David W. Wilmot: lobbyist, power broker, even land banker - for his long-standing financial stake in undeveloped New Jersey Avenue property in Northwest that his client Wal-Mart is developing along with his business partners in the Bennett Group.

But another label also may apply: parking mogul.

Although he is associated most commonly with gliding large-scale developments to approval in the halls of power, it is Mr. Wilmot’s interest in parking lots and garages that makes him an equity partner in such deals, and that has captured the attention of city officials who say they are investigating whether he is in violation of D.C. business licensing laws.

Mr. Wilmot, one of the most well-connected men in the city and a longtime friend and ally of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, is the director of AutoPark Inc., a company he founded in 1986 “to engage in the automobile and other vehicle parking business,” according to his articles of incorporation.

The Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) website shows the company’s business registration as revoked, and documents on file with the agency identify the registered business address as a Vermont Avenue law office that is no longer occupied by Mr. Wilmot.

A profile on Manta, the online business aggregator, puts AutoPark at 1420 N St. in Northwest, but on a visit Friday, The Washington Times was told that the subbasement office condo under a 147-unit residential building off Thomas Circle serves as the offices for Individual Development Inc., a controversial nonprofit he founded in 1990 that provides residential services for people with mental retardation.

AutoPark, The Times was told by an IDI employee, “doesn’t have a specific office, there are locations all over.”

No telephone number is listed in the District for AutoPark Inc.Mr. Wilmot did not return phone calls or emails.

Yet AutoPark’s significance in the District should not be underestimated. Since 1986, the company has been “providing parking management services and consulting, and participating in the ownership in dozens of large scale development projects in the District of Columbia,” according to the website for the Hine School redevelopment project, in Ward 6 near the Eastern Market, which is to become a hotel, retail and office complex.

Mr. Wilmot is listed on the site as “Individual Team Member” in charge of “parking management.”

Among AutoPark’s parking and development interests is the West End Library project, headed by Eastbanc Inc. According to documents obtained by The Times, Mr. Wilmot is the managing member of the certified business entity (CBE) component of the project, which allows the joint venture to qualify as a small, local or minority-owned business.

Except neither Mr. Wilmot nor AutoPark is certified as a CBE, according to a website search of the D.C. Department of Small Local and Minority Businesses.

One of Mr. Wilmot’s other business partners is certified as a CBE, however, and coincidentally, it too is engaged in business activity related to parking cars.

As The Times reported last week, Mr. Wilmot has a financial interest in city-owned property at New Jersey Avenue and H Street Northwest that he and the Bennett Group have allowed to lay fallow for 21 years - renting it to the federal government as a parking lot for 18 of those years.

A spokesman for Wal-Mart, which is developing the site along with the Bennett Group and JBG Properties, confirmed Mr. Wilmot’s disclosure of his financial interest but referred questions to the Bennett Group, which has not returned The Times‘ calls.

According to the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), the federal agency pays a monthly rate of $56,000 to the Bennett Group for parking space for approximately 475 employees, and has paid more than $5 million to the group since 2001. Though the parking arrangement has existed since 1993, the spokesman said, monthly rate information from 1993 to 2001 is not available.

D.C. officials say that since the Bennett Group acquired the property in 1990 through a 99-year ground lease, the city has collected roughly $5.5 million from the group in rent and a possessory interest tax enacted in 2000. That means the Bennett Group took in tax-free parking lot revenue from 1993 to at least 2000.

Ida Williams, the parking manager for the GPO, which provides its own security and allows only its employees to park on the 161,000-square-foot lot, told The Times last week that the GPO used to contract with several different parking operations near its North Capitol Street office.

The Times visited several commercial parking lots in the vicinity last week, at least one of which used to provide parking for GPO employees, and observed that all of the lots - except the Bennett Group’s lot - had several things in common: business licenses, garageman’s insurance and sales and use taxes paid to the District at the rate of 18 percent.

DCRA officials, however, said neither the Bennett Group nor AutoPark is licensed as a parking lot establishment. The Office of Tax and Revenue said that neither entity is registered as a business that pays sales and use taxes.

The classification as a parking lot establishment, according to the DCRA, which requires such entities to pay sales and use tax and obtain a business license and garageman’s insurance, applies if: “you own or manage buildings, premises, establishments, garages, lots and other places where vehicles are stored or kept for other people for profit or gain.”

Asked about the difference between the other companies that the GPO has paid for parking over the years and the Bennett Group, Ms. Williams replied, “That’s a good question.”

City officials are now asking that same question.

“If the company is involved in running parking lots/garages, then it would need to have a parking establishment business license,” Helder Gil, a lawyer and legislative affairs specialist with DCRA, wrote in an email to The Times.

Asked whether AutoPark is operating without a required business license, and whether the Bennett Group is a parking lot establishment for purposes of city law and regulations, Mr. Gil replied: “I have referred the matter to the license division to investigate whether AutoPark is engaged in a parking establishment business without a license.

“I have also referred the question about the Bennett Group to our licensing division for an investigation of whether they have a parking establishment license for the surface lot leased to the U.S. GPO and, if not, whether they would need one.”

After The Times reported on land banking by Mr. Wilmot and the Bennett Group at the proposed Wal-Mart site on New Jersey Avenue, Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, in charge of economic development, said the days of sitting on undeveloped city property for years are over.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he is looking into the matter in preparation for a revised land disposition agreement between the city and the Bennett Group to come before the council before the Wal-Mart deal is finalized.

Asked Friday to comment on the pending DCRA investigation and questions about the parking lot activities of AutoPark and the Bennett Group, neither Mr. Hoskins nor Mr. Brown replied in time for this article.