South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Planning forum hears about details of city parking plan


September 21, 2010

An overview of the city's controversial 50-year parking lease proposal to solve the city's pension problem was the sole presentation at the Sept. 14 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

Cathy Qureshi, of the city Finance Department, said bids were due the next day for the contract. The highest bidders were close enough to one another to trigger a requirement to submit another proposal.

City council has expressed misgivings about the mayor's plan and must okay a final proposal.

The city's pension liability is about $990 million. According to State Act 44 of 2009, the city must fund its pension fund to 50 percent by Dec. 31, or else the state will take over the pension fund.

Today, the city's minimum municipal obligation (MMO) is $45 million a year. Under a takeover, it would increase to $72 million.

The city would be forced to come up with nearly $30 million more a year, which could mean increased real estate or earned income taxes, a cut in services, or both.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl proposes infusing the pension fund with about $200 million of the lease proceeds, thereby preventing the takeover.

The lease agreement is for 12 downtown garages and 9,000 metered spaces.

Under the proposed rate schedule for the on-street meters on the South Side, the hourly rate would increase to 75 cents by April 1, 2011. It is currently 50 cents an hour.

The rates would then increase by 25 cents per hour each of the next four years to a rate of $2.00 an hour in 2015.

Rates would rise at downtown meters to $4.50 an hour by 2015.

Once a rate reaches $1.50 an hour, updated meter technology will be required.

As the next order of business, Susie Puskar was introduced. She represents the planning forum on an exploratory committee to determine the feasibility of the South Side as a "Neighborhood Improvement District," or NID, or some other strategy.

The committee first met on Aug. 17, with the conversation focused on what is a NID, and whether it is a fit for the South Side.

"It was a good mix of residents and property owners," she said of the meeting.

The goal over the next few months, she said, is for the exploratory committee to come up with recommendations to take back to the planning forum organizations to come to consensus.

One idea is for property owners to pay into a fund agreed on by the property owners. A board of directors takes the money and uses it for whatever services are wanted, such as signage, street cleaning, and more.

"The sky is the limit," she said of possible uses.

If residents want a place on the board to decide how money is spent, they must be assessed. There could be different assessments for residents and businesses, she said.

Ms. Puskar said she will meet with any organization making a request.

In the LTV report, Judy Dyda, manager of community planning at the South Side LDC, said work will begin in mid-September on Toby Kei-th's country-themed "I Love This Bar & Grill." The opening is projected for spring, 2011.

The new Hilton Summerfield Suites, extended stay, will be six stories with 134 rooms. The parking plan includes about 80 spaces integral to the building, with the balance in existing parking garages. It should come before the SSLDC Design Committee in October.

Hofbrauhaus' Octoberfest is slated for the weekends of Oct. 17 and Oct. 24; as it is held on URA property, a special permit is not required.

Phase II of South Side Riverfront Park is open, while Phase IIIA is behind schedule. The notice to proceed is expected shortly from PennDOT for Phase IV.

The park should be included in the next Neighborhood Plan update, said Ms. Dyda.

Dolce night club is up for sheriff's sale, and a water lien is in place against the business.

Under miscellaneous, a proposed bank drive-thru was denied because need could not be proven; status of the proposed Get-Go is unknown; and negotiations are on-going with an exercise facility for the former Joseph Beth location.

Most restaurants are doing well, and apartments have waiting lists.

Continuing on, forum Chair Hugh Brannan stated that Bluestone's Drug Store at 2628 East Carson St. stood in the way of a proposed ALDI discount grocery store at South 27th and East Carson streets was demolished.

At the forum's combined July-August meeting on July 27, ALDI representatives said the store's design required demolishing several nearby structures.

While the city's Historic Review Commission (HRC) initially wanted the former Bluestone's Drug Store, which dated to the 1870s, relocated, it relented after property owner Burns & Scalo said it would cost more than $1 million to move. Its stability was also questioned.

An appeal to Common Pleas Court to block the demolition was dismissed in late August.

Wanda Jankoski, of the South Side Community Council, said members took a recent bus trip to tour an ALDI store, and liked what they saw. She said SSCC is in favor of the ALDI proposal for the South Side.

Regarding the UPMC Steering Committee, Ms. Dyda reported the strongest performing program at the South Side site is the operating rooms, while the weakest remains the GI lab. The MRI is at 50 percent capacity.

The urgent care numbers are up and UPMC officials credit a change in management for the increase, while the pain management numbers are up due to the move to new facilities on the first floor.

UPMC was asked to do outreach to the hilltop communities, and will do so.

UPMC Mercy is currently funding an inclusive study of the 21st St. corridor.

Before the meeting concluded, Mr. Brannan announced that the Brashear Association will hold its annual awards luncheon on Oct. 28 at noon at the Le Mont Restaurant.

Visit http://www.brashearassocia for more information.

The next forum meeting will be on Oct. 12.


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