WILKES-BARRE — When Tom Torbik looks at the dirt parking lot on the site of the former Hotel Sterling, he doesn’t see a level playing field for the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority.
Torbik, executive director of the authority, blasted what he called an “illegal” operation permitted by the city that’s taking away customers and revenue.
“All we’re asking is that the rules and regulations be followed,” Torbik said Tuesday during his self-described “rant” at the authority’s public meeting.
The lot, part of the property H&N Investments LLC purchased from the city for $600,000 in June, has been used as a parking lot for more than 200 vehicles, Torbik told authority members. He estimated the owner has made approximately $39,000 since July even though the property is not zoned for parking and customers are paying $10 less than the $70 monthly fee charged by the authority.
If the city’s Zoning Hearing Board at its Wednesday meeting grants the owner’s request for a temporary variance for parking for 24 months, it will generate another $314,000 in revenue. After two years, H&N will have earned $353,000 or 59 percent of what it paid for the property, Torbik pointed out.
“I don’t know why city council or the mayor or anyone in the administration isn’t screaming about this,” Torbik said.
“It’s operated as a parking lot all this time,” responded city Administrator Ted Wampole.
The authority, which is budgeted to pay $150,000 into the city’s general fund budget this year, has filed a complaint with council asking it to refer the case to the zoning board. The board last month delayed a vote on H&N’s initial request and instructed the property owner to modify the zoning application in time for the September meeting.
Torbik said the authority will oppose zoning the lot for parking.
“Someone might say it’s stingy. We want that income. We want those people off that lot and renting from us,” Torbik said.
Torbik reminded authority members of the study done by Desman Design that ruled out the sale of city parking assets, but recommended combining them under one entity and setting up a reserve account for future maintenance and repairs. The authority paid $20,000 toward the study’s $45,000 cost.
“Hello! I’ll take the $350,000 and put it into an account so we can start doing repairs on these garages as opposed to the money that’s been taken away from us,” Torbik said.
Most of the people parking in the lot work for Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance, Torbik said he suspected. They’re eventually going to be using authority parking spaces, he added.
The authority is working on a deal to purchase the Park & Lock East parkade from the city for $1.5 million, its appraised value, and manage the city’s James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Facility.
Central to the deal is the parking lease that WestGuard, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, has been negotiating with the authority. The lease could be for up to 1,000 vehicles for 10 years at $45 per space, a discount of $25 from the authority’s $70. The lease would require WestGuard to pre-pay and the authority would contribute approximately 25 percent of the spaces because the city does not have 1,000 spots in the Intermodal.
Even though WestGuard hasn’t signed a lease, it has taken up 226 spaces in the Intermodal since November 2017. “The reason this is important to me is their 10-year lease didn’t start yet and yet they’re paying the $45,” Torbik said. He estimated the lower rate has cost the city $38,850 in parking revenue.
Westguard has yet to say how many spaces it will need overall or the length of the lease. Wampole expected that to be resolved shortly.
“We can’t be making financial decisions without knowing what the income is. So that’s at a standstill,” Torbik said.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.