Parking bidder offers to tweak deal

Conn. firm pitching changes after council's initial rejection of Ravenstahl plan

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A group trying to salvage a long-term deal to lease Pittsburgh parking facilities is pitching possible modifications to City Council members who cast initial votes against the plan Wednesday.

Among those knocking on council members' doors in recent days was Alan Lazowski, chairman and CEO of Connecticut-based LAZ Parking Ltd., part of the team that offered nearly $452 million for a 50-year lease of parking garages and meters owned by the city and its parking authority.

"Their thought is, OK, we probably see a better way of getting this done. Perhaps we should re-evaluate this lease agreement. Is there a way perhaps to lower the initial payment, decrease the length of the lease, find ways to keep the city more involved?" said Councilman Bruce Kraus, one of those approached by LAZ.

Mr. Kraus and five colleagues -- Patrick Dowd, Bill Peduto, Natalia Rudiak, Doug Shields and council President Darlene Harris -- on Wednesday voted against four bills that would have authorized the lease with private investors led by J.P. Morgan Asset Management and LAZ parking.

The lease idea originated nearly two years ago with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who wants to use at least $220 million of the proceeds to shore up the pension fund and avert a state takeover of the fund at the end of the year.

The six council members voted against the plan because of the length of the lease, concerns about private management, proposed parking rate increases that Mr. Ravenstahl included in the deal to entice investors and the estimated $2.4 billion in parking revenue that would be forfeited over the 50 years.

Ms. Rudiak said the lease idea had been "universally panned" by city residents.

Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the lease Tuesday, and Mrs. Harris predicted intense lobbying by lease proponents inside and outside of government leading up to the vote.

Mr. Dowd said LAZ approached him Friday to see whether he might be interested if the deal were "tweaked."

"I don't see any way the deal can be 'tweaked' to overcome the real and sincere objections people have," he said, adding that the debate is about the city's economic future.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, who abstained on the lease votes Wednesday, said it was too early to say whether a compromise lease plan would emerge.

"Folks are waiting until the mayor gets back to see what his thoughts are, and whether he would be open to that opportunity," she said. "I was told that as soon as he gets off the plane, he'll be working on it."

Mr. Ravenstahl's lease proposal began to unravel as he was on a 10-day business trip to Asia. He's expected to address the issue publicly on Monday.

His spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said the mayor's office was not trying to negotiate any changes to the lease proposal. She said she couldn't speak to what other parties might be doing.

The mayor's office designed the lease, put it out for bid and received three offers. Because the highest and second-highest offers were within 10 percent of each other, the city declared a runoff process, in which the J.P. Morgan-LAZ Parking group prevailed.

Shannon Baker, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Parking Partners LLC, the name of the J.P. Morgan-LAZ Parking consortium, said Mr. Lazowski had been in town this week to work on the lease deal. But she said she was unaware of any effort on his part to modify the lease terms.

Mr. Shields, who hasn't discussed lease changes with LAZ, plans to vote against the deal again on Tuesday. "Maybe we go back and bring LAZ back somewhere down the road to manage the parking authority," he said.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Rich Lord: 412-263-1542.


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