After spending $28.9 million to build it, the city Stadium Authority has opened its 1,255-space parking garage on the North Shore, but few seem to have caught on.
Despite an arduous struggle to secure financing, the authority has opened the garage without fanfare, no ribbon-cutting, publicity or advertising -- and it shows.
At 11:30 yesterday morning, all of four vehicles were parked in the garage near one of the entrances, and they very well could have been owned by construction workers still at the site. The rest of the garage was as wide open.
The garage appeared close to empty on other days this week as well.
The 10-level structure has been open since the evening of June 16, but there were no signs outside alerting motorists to that fact except for a small one at the entrance off Tony Dorsett Drive saying "garage open."
There are big banners on the west and south sides of the structure advertising that leases are available, but they do not indicate that the garage is open.
Stadium Authority Executive Director Mary Conturo said the lack of advertising is, in part, by design. She said the authority opted for "sort of a soft opening" in an effort to work out kinks and finish punch list items.
"We've not been pushing the use of it. It's been less than a week. We still have punch list items to finish," she said.
"We're trying to make sure it's running smoothly," she added. "Our time frame was to get it open and running smoothly by the All-Star game and that's the process we're in now.
Asked how the authority could work out kinks with so few cars using the facility, Ms. Conturo said the agency opened the garage for last Friday's Pirate game and parked 500 cars.
"It's been a week. Give me a break," she said. "We absolutely intend to market it in every way that makes sense. We're pleased with the way it turned out. It's a good, operating garage."
Ms. Conturo labored for months and months to secure funding for the project, which originally was to have been built by the end of 2005. Financing was difficult in part because of the city's high parking tax, which sent garage occupancy rates plummeting.
The Steelers gave up a $4 million state grant for an amphitheater project to help the garage construction, and the authority eventually got a $16.7 million loan from the Employee Real Estate Construction Trust Fund, or Erect Fund, a union pension fund.
Ms. Conturo said the authority does have a marketing plan for the garage and will be putting up signs in a week or two. It also is planning some Web site promotions and will be reaching out to Steelers and Pirates fans and North Shore office workers. She noted that the authority worked hard to get the garage opened by the All-Star game and has done so.
The garage, at Tony Dorsett Drive and West General Robinson Street, is designed to replace parking lost to the construction of two office buildings and a hotel around PNC Park and Heinz Field. It is expected to include a Light Rail Transit stop, once a North Shore extension is finished.
"I'm not concerned about the number of cars in the garage on a rainy Friday morning in June," Steelers President Art Rooney II said through a spokeswoman. "Having just opened barely a week ago, the garage is very much needed on the North Shore. From the All-Star games to the many other exciting events taking place here in the months ahead, I'm certain it will be filled to capacity in very short order."
The maximum weekday rate for the garage is $7, which is $1 to $2 more than North Shore surface lots, but cheaper than Downtown parking.
City Councilman Bill Peduto, a Stadium Authority board member, said he believes the garage ultimately will be successful as plans for housing, more offices, and entertainment come to fruition.
Mark Belko can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1262.