Strip District merchants oppose new meters along Penn Avenue
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A proposed end to free parking along 15 blocks of Penn Avenue has upset some Strip District activists and business owners, who say the amenity is part of the neighborhood's distinctive character.
The city parking authority's meter modernization program includes 519 new metered spaces citywide. According to authority planning documents, 338 are to go on Penn between 17th and 31st streets, an area of the Strip where motorists now park for free.
In fact, those blocks are crammed with parked vehicles, weekdays and weekends.
If the plan goes through, motorists would begin paying $2 per hour to park on that stretch of Penn, which includes Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., Jimmy & Nino's, Mullaney's Harp & Fiddle Irish Pub and other businesses making up Pittsburgh's grocery, specialty foods and novelties district. However, David Onorato, authority executive director, said activists and business owners shouldn't worry just yet.
"The spaces have been approved," he said. "Whether it gets done is another decision that hasn't been made."
Mr. Onorato said he will consult community groups about the proposal.
City council approved creation of the spaces, along with a citywide series of meter rate increases, in December 2010, said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. At the time, council was exploring new revenue sources as an outgrowth of a pension bailout.
The new spaces were incorporated into the authority's meter modernization plan, which involves installation of 560 multi-space metering devices citywide by mid-September.
As with other on-street parking across the city, any new metered spaces in the Strip would be enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Meters are not enforced on Sunday.
After learning about the possible loss of free parking on Penn, Becky Rodgers, executive director of Neighbors in the Strip, sent the mayor's office an email saying the change would make some business owners "crazy."
"There is so much going on in the Strip that is upsetting the existing businesses," she told the mayor's office, adding, "why not try to avoid making it worse?"
In an interview, Ms. Rodgers said some businesses in the Strip are concerned about the impact that Buncher Co.'s proposed Riverfront Landing development might have on traffic and their own bottom lines.
Buncher's plans include purchasing the historic produce terminal from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and demolishing one-third of the building so 17th Street can be extended to the Allegheny River. That likely would mean relocating the terminal's produce wholesalers.
Last year, Ms. Rodgers said, motorists lost free weekend parking in front of the produce terminal on Smallman when companies leasing the property decided to begin charging $5 per vehicle. Now, she said, the proposal to eliminate free parking on Penn "just seems like another slap in the face."
Ms. Rodgers noted that council's December 2010 legislation extended parking enforcement until 10 p.m. in some neighborhoods, a measure it later rescinded because of public complaints and other reasons. She said she hopes officials also are open-minded about the number of new metered spaces.
She said some business owners might welcome more meters to promote traffic turnover.
The Strip District already has single-space meters on Penn between the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and 17th Street. There also are meters on Smallman Street and cross streets as far east as 24th Street.
Customers relish the free spaces beyond that area and often circle the block until one becomes available.
"Like it nor not, people in Pittsburgh don't enjoy paying for their parking," said David Regan, owner of Mullaney's at 2329 Penn. More meters, he predicted, will mean fewer people shopping in the Strip.
Nino Sunseri of Jimmy & Nino's, at 1901 Penn, likewise expressed concern that loss of free parking will send more shoppers to the suburbs and make the Strip less of a destination for Pittsburgh visitors.
"I think it will be devastating to retail business here," he said.
Ms. Rodgers said it makes no sense to put meters up as far east as 31st Street because that's a residential area. The authority's meter modernization plan does not include creation of metered spaces on side streets between the 1700 and 3100 blocks of Penn so free parking still would be available on some of those streets.
In addition to the 338 spaces in the Strip, the parking authority's modernization plan includes 22 new metered spaces Downtown, 10 on the South Side and 149 in Oakland.
First Published July 30, 2012 12:00 am