(Graph courtesy of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s parking plan slideshow)
There was a sense of resignation among the few Northsiders who attended Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s community meeting on the privatization of Pittsburgh’s public parking garages and meters.
Held at the Northside Senior Center in Allegheny Center on July 14, the public outreach event brought out more public officials than community members.
Although Northside citizens and business owners were uniformly unenthusiastic about the administration’s plan — to lease the city’s garages and meters to a private entity for 50 years in exchange for a lump sum to bailout the city’s ailing pension fund — most acknowledged their lack of a better solution. The pension fund is currently only 25 percent funded.
“I’d rather as a philosophical matter find a way for the city to reap the benefit,” said John Graf, the co-owner of The Priory hotel and an East Ohio Street bakery of the same name.
Mayor Ravenstahl’s plan would force the winning firm to raise hourly rates by an average of 30 cents a year so as to avoid an immediate jump in prices. Graf said he wasn’t concerned that parking rates on East Ohio Street, which would rise to $2.00 per hour by 2015, would have a noticeable effect on businesses.
“The cost is gradual. It’s not dramatic enough in my mind to affect someone from shopping in the city,” Ravenstahl said.
But Allegheny Historical Society President John Canning said the effect of rising rates on businesses concerned him.
“I saw how Allegheny Center was hurt by charging for parking,” once people began to flock to the suburban malls that offered free parking, he said.
Ravenstahl countered that this was the best option the city had. He warned that if Pittsburgh did nothing by the end of the year, the state would force Pittsburgh to fork over an extra $30 million a year above its current commitment of $45 million.
Ravenstahl said this scenario would require the city to make draconian changes to the budget, such as laying off as much as half the police force or raising property or wage taxes significantly.
Leasing the garages would also allow the city to forgo $50 million in needed parking garage upgrades, which the mayor said would be paid for by the private firm under the leasing plan.
It would save the city $100 million of Parking Authority debt and boost the pension fund by $200 million.
The $200 million would only boost the pension fund up to 50 percent of its obligation. The mayor said another tax would be required to make up the additional 50 percent. He said this could mean boosting the Local Services Tax, a yearly fee of $52 for individuals who work in the city, to $120.
Ravenstahl said that all private parking lots and garages, including the one located on Foreland Avenue in Historic Deutschtown, would be required to keep at least 45 percent of their spaces “transient” or open to the public. The other 55 percent of spaces would be available for individual or business leases.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority would also retain the right to build new parking facilities if city development called for it.
“50 years is a long time,” Ravenstahl concluded. “It’s inevitable that we’re going to grow in that time frame.”