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WB council approves parking deal and renewal of downtown business district

i Dec 21st 2018

By Jerry Lynott, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — City council Thursday approved a parking deal over the objections of downtown workers who said an existing lease guarantees them the same spots in the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Facility that are now going to others.

The two-year deal commits 722 spaces, or almost all of the Intermodal parkade, to employees of Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Companies for two years at $45 a month per spot. WestGUARD Insurance Co., which negotiated the lease, agreed to prepay the city for the spaces for its employees moving into the insurer’s nearby corporate headquarters on Public Square.

But employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry office, which is also next to the parkade, told council they pay $60 each for approximately 300 spaces that come with a lease for their building. They objected to a plan by the city to relocate their parking spaces to the Park & Lock Central garage next to the Intermodal. They said the older garage is dirty, deteriorating and a longer walk to their workplace than the 50 to 75 yards estimated by city Administrator Rick Gazenski.

Everyone is being accommodated in the deal, Gazenski assured council and the L&I employees.

But after hearing from the state employees, councilman Bill Barrett said he would feel better knowing their concerns were going to be addressed.

“As I said earlier for a few yards extra … they have to … walk versus losing a thousand people that’s something that you need to think about when you vote,” Gazenski told Barrett.

“Well, I don’t really like that type of pressure,” Barrett said.

“I don’t mean it to be pressure, I certainly don’t, “Gazenski responded. “I’m just saying you need to … we all need to think about what’s going to be happening in our area.”

Barrett ultimately voted in favor of the deal, adding, “We do need to reach out to all the parties involved.”

The measure passed with four votes. Councilwoman Beth Gilbert, who works for GUARD, abstained.

Business district renewed

Council also approved the renewal of the downtown Business Improvement District for 10 years, but not before the ordinance spurred discussion from supporters and opponents.

Businesses and residents in the 26-block area downtown are assessed fees, based on property assessments, for the upkeep of the district in addition to the taxes they already pay to the city.

City Controller and ratepayer Darren Snyder said some are afraid to speak out because they would have to publicly voice their opposition when matters come before the district’s board for a vote.

“Some of these ratepayers feel that it is taxation without representation,” he noted.

Grace Mack, a Union Street resident within the BID, agreed with Snyder.

“Why should 26 blocks of the city be taxed extra over and above what we already are paying?” Mack asked.

Larry Newman, executive director of the downtown economic development organization, the Diamond City Partnership, acknowledged he had no way of knowing about the silent majority mentioned by Snyder. The BID was established by state law and he encouraged ratepayers to contact state legislators about making changes.

“But our doors are always open and we are happy to take constructive criticism,” Newman said.

Ratepayer Jim Casey praised Newman and the partnership for their efforts that have transformed the downtown for the better.

“This center is where we have to focus and it’s not taking away from the outlying neighborhoods. It is adding,” Casey said.