W-B Council OKs Parking Agreement
WILKES-BARRE — City council on Thursday approved an agreement guaranteeing nearly all the parking spaces in the intermodal garage to an insurance company over objections from state employees who currently use the parkade.
Council voted 4-0 to approve the deal that calls for Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Cos. to pay a discounted rate of $45 per month per space for up to 722 spaces, minus an additional 10 percent discount. Spaces normally rent for $70 monthly.
Councilwoman Beth Gilbert abstained because she was a GUARD employee.
The deal changed slightly from Tuesday’s work session; that version guaranteed GUARD up to all of the garage’s 752 spaces.
GUARD would make an up-front payment to the city for two years of parking for however many spaces the company determines it initially needs as the company transitions headquarters from offices on River Street to the Wilkes-Barre Center building it bought on Public Square in November 2017.
City Administrator Rick Gazenski had said Tuesday that the Park and Lock Central garage, which is connected to the intermodal, could accommodate people who currently park in the intermodal.
During public comment, Kim Krupsha identified herself as an employee of the state Department of Labor and Industry, which has offices on South Franklin Street near the intermodal, and asked council to postpone the vote. Krupsha said L&I employees have been parking in the intermodal since it opened in 2010.
“To kick us all out to a dilapidated parking lot is a real crying shame and doesn’t speak highly of the 300 employees at L&I,” she said.
Krupsha also said L&I has a July 2011 agreement with the department’s landlord — Humford Equities — that guarantees L&I 296 parking spaces at the intermodal.
Employees believe Humford, in turn, has an agreement with the city to guarantee L&I employees those spaces at the intermodal.
However, the city did not turn over any such agreement to The Citizens’ Voice when the newspaper earlier this year filed a Right-to-Know request for a copy of each contract the city currently has with any entity regarding parking.
Krupsha alleged that the city “has over-sold the spots that are available.”
“We have a lease for 296 spots and we ask council to honor it,” Krupsha said, adding that “$28 million in taxpayer money went into building the intermodal center, and to privatize it for GUARD is a shame.”
Gazenski said GUARD “wants to be a good neighbor” and would be willing to work with L&I.
“In the meantime, we’re accommodating everyone that’s involved in this situation,” he said.
Gazenski also said the number of GUARD employees is expected to grow to more than 700, and downtown merchants rely on their business.
“Yes, you might have to walk a little bit further … to another parkade. … My question to council is this: When you’re considering this, are you going to let possibly an extra 75 yards prohibit 750 people coming into our area and possibly (causing) a Fortune 500 company to move out?” Gazenski said.
L&I employee Concetta Jankoviak said the department is hiring more employees that will need more parking. She also asked council to consider whether L&I would have located downtown “had we known this was a possibility. Would they have re-signed that lease after 10 years?”
Councilman Bill Barrett said he had reservations about voting for the lease and urged the administration to resolve the issues.
In other business, council authorized the administration to submit applications to the state for Local Share Account grants on behalf of the F.M. Kirby Center, Volunteers in Medicine, the Irem Temple Restoration Project and the Central Railroad of New Jersey train station renovation project.
Council also approved submission of a grant application on behalf of McCarthy Tire for $800,000 toward renovating an old warehouse into a corporate headquarters. This item was a late addition to the agenda.
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Because of a lack of motions, council did not vote on requests to submit LSA grant applications toward establishment of a data center or on behalf of developers of the Citizens Bank building toward creation of a banquet/conference space.
Council also approved renewal of the Business Improvement District, taking out a $3 million tax anticipation note, switching Internet service providers, selling delinquent real estate tax accounts to the city finance authority, a new fee schedule for Hollenback Golf Course, and the submission of LSA grant applications for remodeling work on city hall and installing a miniature golf course and driving range at Hollenback Golf Course.
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