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City In Talks To Sell Parking Garage

August 22, 2018

City In Talks To Sell Parking Garage

WILKES-BARRE — The city is again in negotiations to sell the Park and Lock East Garage, this time to the city parking authority.

Authority Executive Director Tom Torbik on Tuesday updated board members about negotiations with the city and said he was amenable to the authority paying the city the appraised value of the garage — $1.55 million.

And, the authority would be responsible for paying the remainder of a construction loan on the garage — about $370,000 — to the city Office of Community Development, Torbik said, making the sale price nearly comparable to one offered by a private company earlier this year.

Mayor Tony George’s administration started negotiating in 2017 with officials from Washington & Market Street Properties, whose principals, Martin Mariano and Antonio Rado, own an office building adjacent to the garage.

But George couldn’t muster enough support on council for the proposed $2 million sale, so he pulled a sale resolution from a council agenda in May.

Among council members’ concerns was keeping the garage as a city asset.

George has said he included revenue from the garage sale in the 2018 city budget, and loss of that budgeted revenue was one of the reasons he cited when applying to the state for financially distressed status in June.

East garage profitable

The authority board also had at the time opposed the sale.

Torbik had told city officials it was unlikely that the authority would be able to continue making an annual $150,000 contribution to the city if the garage was sold to a private company because the authority wouldn’t be able to spread its expenses over a larger number of occupied parking spaces.

He also noted that the authority has turned over nearly $4.5 million to the city since 2006 — more than $1.5 million of that amount in connection with Park & Lock East.

Torbik said Park & Lock East is one of the city’s two “more-profitable” garages and noted that the city “took all the (monthly parking) contracts from Park & Lock Central and moved them to the Intermodal garage, leaving the Central and North garages with little profit.

The authority owns the Central and North garages as well as a lot on East Northampton Street, while the city owns the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Center and the East garage.

Geisinger Health Systems, which had offices in Mariano and Rado’s office building adjacent to the East garage, had been paying the city $70 per month for each of the 208 spots it leased at the East garage, but the company had announced plans to move those employees to a new office building in CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park in Jenkins Twp.

Officials had said that if Mariano and Rado owned the garage, they would have been able to guarantee parking there, making it easier to attract new tenants.

Deed won’t impede sale

In April, city Administrator Ted Wampole had said there was a stipulation in the deed for the East garage that required Mariano and Rado’s approval to sell it, so it made sense to sell it to them. But on Tuesday, he said that sale stipulation applies only to private entities.

Because the authority could be considered a branch of the city, a sale to the authority would not require approval from Mariano and Rado, Wampole said.

City and authority officials also are negotiating taking over management of the Intermodal Center, Torbik said, noting that a parking study completed earlier this year recommended that all parking operations should be controlled by one entity rather than split between the city and authority.

Torbik said the authority would not be interested in buying the Intermodal from the city because the authority would have to take out a loan, and revenue from parking contracts the city has with private entities would be insufficient to cover the loan payments.

Westguard negotiations

Torbik also said the city and authority are in parking contract negotiations with Westguard, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway GUARD, which is in the process of moving from a complex on River Street into the Wilkes-Barre Center building on Public Square.

The entities are working on a 10-year deal in which the insurance company would pay $45 per parking space per month to accommodate up to 1,000 vehicles — about 750 at the Intermodal and about 250 at Park & Lock Central.

The deal could mean as much as $5.4 million in parking revenue for the authority and city, but Torbik and Wampole agree that use of the revenue should be restricted to management, upkeep and maintenance of the garages.

Wampole said he expects negotiations with Westguard will be complete by early September, and the administration will have a contract ready for council’s approval at the Sept. 13 council meeting.

Contact the writer:

smocarsky@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV

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