Pittsburgh isn't charging teams for using parking spaces

But others must pay for meter shutdowns

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The city of Pittsburgh and city parking authority forgo tens of thousands of dollars each year because the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins aren't required to pay for metered parking spaces that are taken out of service for games and concerts.

Dozens of other organizations, businesses and individuals are required to pay when they take metered on-street spaces out of service for festivals, fundraisers and other events. From 2011 through 2012, for example, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Western Pennsylvania paid $2,700 to block off meters for its summer Jam on Walnut events in Shadyside.

"Obviously, it's a financial burden because it takes away money that could be given to crucial research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis," Jamie Hayden, foundation logistics specialist, said.

The city, not the parking authority, decided to forgo the meter revenue for games, officials said. David Onorato, authority executive director, declined to give an opinion about the arrangement.

Metered on-street spaces are enforced 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except holidays. The city owns the spaces and sets rates and enforcement hours. The authority manages the spaces, provides enforcement and keeps about 90 percent of the revenue.

When most groups and individuals want to take meters out of service, the authority charges them the regular hourly rate -- $3 Downtown, $2.50 for the North Shore, $1 Uptown and other amounts in other neighborhoods. The authority rents the spaces in increments of 10 hours (one enforcement day).

In all, from Jan. 1, 2010, through March 6, 2013, the period reviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the city and parking authority took in more than $577,000 by renting metered spaces for periods ranging from one day to several months. None of that money came from the Pirates, Steelers or Penguins, records showed, even though the city repeatedly blocked off meters for the teams' events.

The city-Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority owns PNC Park, Consol Energy Center and Heinz Field and leases the venues to the sports teams. Officer Chrissy Gasiorowski said the suspension of on-street parking was incorporated into traffic-management plans for the venues.

While other groups pay 50 cents for each "no parking" sign and post the signs themselves, the sports teams do neither. The city provides the signs -- and has on-duty police officers post them -- for free.

Baltimore and Cleveland also bag meters around sports venues without charging teams for lost revenue, officials in those cities said.

Councilman Patrick Dowd said the use of on-street parking spaces around the venues should be part of a larger discussion about how the city manages special events. He's concerned that police officers sometimes are pulled from neighborhoods to provide extra assistance at sports venues.

Dan Gilman, chief of staff to Councilman Bill Peduto and a candidate for the seat that Mr. Peduto is vacating to run for mayor, called for a blanket policy treating all organizations the same.

"The first thing is, it's a matter of fairness. We shouldn't be deciding which events are more important," Mr. Gilman said. He also called on the authority to rent meters by the hour, saying nonprofits and community groups cannot afford to pay to rent spaces for 10 hours when their events last for shorter periods.

A city financially distressed

Though it's taken steps in recent years to improve its bottom line, the city remains classified as financially distressed. Council has had frequent discussions on how to leverage more parking revenue and considered returning parking enforcement until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday -- a move that would make on-street spaces around the sports venues even more profitable.

Council President Darlene Harris has supported a tax on billboards and demanded bigger contributions from tax-exempt nonprofits. But she said she couldn't immediately take a position on the meter issue because the suspension of on-street parking best might be viewed as a step the city took to benefit motorists.

Since 2010, the parking authority has collected tens of thousands of dollars from movie companies that blocked off on-street parking spaces for filming and as little as $22.50 from East Liberty businessman Matthew Ciccone, who took three meters out of service one day for a neighborhood event.

Last April, the authority billed construction company PJ Dick $432,000 for taking 20 Downtown meters out of service for the two-plus years that it will take to build the new PNC tower. It also charged the company $2,000 for removing the meters and poles.

The bill is unpaid. PJ Dick last week referred questions to PNC, which refused to discuss the matter.

The Pirates this season will play 81 home games, 67 of which will be held Monday through Saturday and affect the public's use of about 77 metered spaces around PNC Park.

The city and authority would make $128,975 ($2.50 per hour x 10 hours x 77 spaces x 67 games) by requiring the Bucs to pay for spaces blocked off for games.

In addition, at least seven Downtown spaces on Sixth Street are blocked off for baseball games. The city and authority could make $14,070 ($3 per hour x 10 hours x 7 spaces x 67 games) by requiring the team pay for those spaces.

Teams note contributions

In a statement, Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki said: "It is imperative for all involved that there is no street parking around the ballpark on game days. ... Furthermore, it is important to note that the Pirates have paid nearly $4 million in amusement tax directly to the city of Pittsburgh over the past two years alone. This does not take into account the various other taxes paid each year by the organization, taxes paid by all of our players as well as visiting players who play at PNC Park, nor the revenue generated by the hundreds of thousands of fans that visit our city each year to watch baseball at PNC Park."

The Penguins are in the final stages of a regular season abbreviated by a National Hockey League labor dispute. So far, the team has played 16 home games that were held Monday through Saturday and affected the public's use of 41 metered spaces around Consol Energy Center. The team has one more weeknight home game and two more Saturday home games before the regular season ends.

The city and authority would make $7,790 ($1 x 10 hours x 41 spaces x 19 games) by charging the Pens for use of those spaces. In addition, the team has earned a playoff berth, meaning meters could be taken out of service for additional games this year.

Penguins spokesman Tom McMillan confirmed that the team pays no fees for parking "variances" but noted that the blocked-off spaces make it easier for motorists to move around the venue on event days.

Last season, the Steelers played two preseason games and eight regular-season games at Heinz Field. All were played on Sundays, except for a Thursday night preseason game and a Monday night regular-season game. Officer Gasiorowski said many of the same metered spaces blocked for a weekday Pirates game are taken out of service for weekday football games, too.

Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said in an email that the team pays $4 million annually in amusement taxes and that the city generates parking tax from fans who park in garages and lots when they attend games. Also, Officer Gasiorowski said the teams purchase $125 street-closure permits on certain occasions, such as when the Pirates put tents or playground equipment on Federal Street.

In addition to games, the teams bring concerts and other events to the venues. Some of those are held on weekday nights, requiring meters to be blocked off. The same 41 meters blocked off for the April 5 Penguins game, for example, also were posted "no parking" for the April 6 Eric Clapton concert at the arena.

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


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