Parking rates may soar under lease plan

Ravenstahl proposes 50-year lease to rescue city pension fund

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Parking rates at city-owned garages and meters would rise dramatically under a parking lease proposal Mayor Luke Ravenstahl unveiled Wednesday in a bid to keep control of the city's pension fund.

Mr. Ravenstahl proposed a 50-year lease of meters and parking authority-owned garages and lots, a deal that would essentially end city-subsidized parking and put about 18,000 spaces into private hands.

Under the plan, the city would turn over the parking spaces to a private party who would operate them under terms established by the city and the parking authority. In return, the city would receive a lump sum payment for the 50-year lease.

City officials have not disclosed how much money they expect the lease to generate, but Mr. Ravenstahl said the deal should bring in enough money to wipe out about $100 million in parking authority debt and pump $200 million into the pension fund, which is badly underfunded.

"There is room for negotiation, if you will," he said, encouraging City Council and the public to scrutinize the draft proposal but calling a lease of parking assets the only way to generate enough money to stave off a state takeover of the pension fund at year's end.

Mr. Ravenstahl called for public hearings on the proposal but gave no dates.

All-day rates at the authority's Downtown garages now range from $6 to $13.75, while rates at privately owned garages range from $12 to $17.78, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

He said his proposal would bring the authority's rates in line with the private sector's, which will make the 18,000 parking spaces more attractive to prospective bidders.

All-day parking rates at authority-owned garages Downtown would increase by as much as $4.25 next year and by as much as $10.25 by 2015, with later increases tied to inflation.

At the Mellon Square garage, the tab for all-day parking, now $13.75, would jump to $18 next year and to $24 by 2015.

A resident heading Downtown to run a quick errand would face a sharper hit, with the cost to park an hour at authority garages increasing by as much as $4 next year and by as much as $10 by 2015, with later increases tied to inflation.

The cost to park an hour at the Mellon Square garage, now $5, would jump to $9 next year and would triple to $15 by 2015.

Michael Edwards, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, said he's less concerned with rate increases than with making sure they're well publicized so motorists aren't blindsided. He said he believes motorists will pay higher rates to park in a vibrant Downtown.

"We need to make sure Downtown is the greatest experience it can possibly be," he said.

Rates also would increase at neighborhood garages, on-street metered spaces and off-street metered lots owned by the city or authority.

Increases would vary by neighborhood.

The cost to park an hour at a Downtown meter, now $2, would increase to $4.50 by 2015, with later increases tied inflation. The cost to park an hourat a Shadyside business district meter, now 50 cents, would increase to $3 by 2015, with later increases set by inflation.

"Any type of increase like this will obviously affect any business," said Richard Rattner, president of Shadyside Chamber of Commerce. He said higher parking rates are a reason for shoppers to go to malls instead of neighborhood business districts.

Council members also are concerned, in part because of the length of the lease. Council commissioned a $250,000 study of parking assets, Mr. Ravenstahl's proposal and other options for rescuing the pension fund.

Councilman Patrick Dowd, who's among those interested in exploring alternatives to a lease, said the parking rate increases in Mr. Ravenstahl's proposal struck him as too steep.

Merrill Stabile, president of Alco Parking, a private parking operator, said the city shouldn't insist on a gradual ramp-up to market rates. If the city restricts the rates, he said, "you're going to get a lower offer" for the parking assets.

Mr. Ravenstahl said his proposal protects the interests of the city, motorists and other groups. Among other provisions, the lease proposal:

• Lays out a schedule for all parking rate increases, including how much rates may go up each year.

• Allows the city to borrow metered spaces for parades, festivals and other neighborhood events.

• Gives the city the latitude to displace meters or lots for economic development purposes, though it would have to compensate the leaseholder for lost income.

• Ensures free parking at metered spaces during weekend worship services.

• Leaves enforcement to the parking authority and keeps fines flowing to the authority and city. Enforcement, now ending to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, would be expanded to 10 p.m. six days a week and from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

• Requires the leaseholder to make capital upgrades the city and authority couldn't afford.

Seven firms and partnerships, already pre-qualified by city officials, will have an opportunity to bid on the lease when it's finalized later this month.

He plans to pick the winning bidder in August and wants council to vote on the lease by Sept. 15, so he can meet the state's year-end deadline for propping up the pension fund.

The pension fund is now less than 30 percent funded, and Mr. Ravenstahl said an infusion of $200 million would raise the funding level to 50 percent, which would stave off a state takoever.

The lease proposal is part of Mr. Ravenstahl's plan for getting the fund 100 percent funded in 30 years.

He's asked the Legislature for $15 million in additional taxes each year, money he would use to supplement the city's annual appropriation to the fund. This year's appropriation is about $56 million.


Staff writer Rich Lord contributed. Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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