Ravenstahl releases parameters of proposed parking lease

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl this morning proposed leasing the city's parking garages and meters to a private consortium for 50 years.

He said the plan, designed to net at least $200 million for the city's troubled pension fund, would allow "very gradual" increases in parking rates.

Enforcement of parking meters will be extended four hours -- from 6 to 10 p.m. most days in at least some neighborhoods -- but Mr. Ravenstahl said the plan allows the city to close streets for community events and to offer free parking during Sunday morning worship services.

Mr. Ravenstahl this morning released a pair of draft lease agreements that seven pre-qualified firms or consortiums will have an opportunity to bid on later this year. One covers parking authority garages, and the other covers city-owned meters -- about 18,000 spaces in all. The mayor said one of the seven bidders will be awarded both contracts.

The pension fund is less than 30 percent funded and at risk of a state takeover at the end of the year. Mr. Ravenstahl said an infusion of $200 million would make the fund 50 percent funded -- and stave off a state takeover. If the state took over the fund, the mayor said, the city would be required to dramatically increase annual pension payments, a requirement that would translate into whopping tax increases or major police department personnel cuts.

"It's a crisis ... Action needs to take place," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

The draft agreements specify when and by how much the leaseholder could increase parking rates.

The cost of an hour's metered parking Downtown would increase from $2 to $2.50 next year and go up another 50 cents annually in each of the following four years.

After that, increases would be determined by inflation.

Increases in other neighborhoods vary, depending on location.

The deal also would bring rates at parking authority garages in line with rates charged at privately owned facilities, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

Rates at some authority-owned garages would go up $1 to $2.25 per day next year. Right now, rates at the authority's Downtown garages are $9.75 to $13.75 per day.

Mr. Ravenstahl said council and the public will have about 2 1/2 months to vet the proposal, and he said he's open to possible changes.

However, he said he wants council to vote by Sept. 15, so the deal closes by year's end and the city can avoid state takeover of the pension fund.

Mr. Ravenstahl said his planning team has learned from the mistakes Chicago officials made in leasing their parking meters. One criticism was a lack of scrutiny by city legislators.

"Here in Pittsburgh, they have 2 1/2 months," he said of city council members.

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


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