A Pittsfield, Massachusetts business owner is frustrated with the city as it navigates the construction of a new parking garage.
On March 1st, Mayor Linda Tyer told WAMC that the city had concrete plans to address the Columbus Avenue parking garage. It was half closed in 2014 due to structural issues and is regarded as a dangerous eyesore by downtown business owners.
“We have a plan in place for the demolition and the completion of the surface lot at Columbus Avenue parking garage of June 1st, and so we will be communicating with the neighbors and abutters of the Columbus Avenue parking garage in the very near future about what they can expect as the demolition and the reconstruction of the surface lot happens,” said the mayor.
The city has already gotten to work on the project, which will be carried out by local contractor J.H. Maxymillian. It’s expected to cost just over a million dollars. But an owner of a nearby business feels left out.
“First let me open by saying on behalf of the Berkshire Nautilus that we are all very excited at the realization that finally there will be a new parking lot on Summer Street," said Jim Ramondetta, owner of the gym on Summer Street – directly across the street from the Columbus Avenue parking garage. At April 9th’s city council meeting, he said that letters he sent to Mayor Tyer in January and ward councilor John Krol in March about his questions and concerns with the project went unanswered, and that an April 3rd meeting with abutters only stoked his fears.
“I must say I was literally stunned to learn for the very first time at this meeting that not only would there be no additional free three-hour public parking spaces created with the reconstruction, but even more alarmingly, all of the free three-hour public spaces that my clients have come to depend on were being removed,” said Ramondetta.
At the meeting, Ramondetta learned that those spaces would now be metered.
“No one up to this point in any conversation with me had mentioned the M word," he said. "It appears now that this was the plan all along. I literally felt that I had been deceived.”
Describing the meters as “an unfair user fee,” he said the damage they would do to his business “could not be overstated,” estimating that it would double membership fees and drive customers to corporate gyms outside of the city core.
“Clearly our clients are not the typical downtown visitors or eatery diners who may shop or dine once a week, once a month, or even once a day using the parking lot facilities," said Ramondetta. "Some of our clients come in more than once a day, and most of them come in every day.”
Ramondetta said the promise of free parking from the city attracted him to bring his business downtown and noted Berkshire Nautilus had purchased the Yon Building on Summer Street and spent over a million dollars redeveloping it.
“We were one of the first early risk-takers in the revitalization effort in downtown Pittsfield,” he said.
He appealed to the city to acknowledge that the move to more metered parking was making it harder for downtown businesses. Councilor Krol brought a petition to the council calling for the administration to reexamine the parking plan.
“I understand Mr. Ramondetta’s anxiety over what the parking garage and the new surface lot and what that means for his business," Tyer said to WAMC Wednesday. “At the same time however, he misrepresented, quite frankly, the role that the city has played in the Columbus Avenue parking garage, the amount of communication that has occurred, and my intention today is to draft a response to the city council to let them know just exactly what we have done and the conversations we have had with Mr. Ramondetta.”
Tyer says the city hasn’t explored the impact of metered parking on businesses, citing the cost of hiring consultants. She said she hasn’t seen meters deter new business private investment in the downtown.
“You know, we have business on North Street who are happy because now they have parking spaces available in front of their storefronts," said the mayor. "And I understand that there are people who don’t agree with that or who are frustrated by that. Our job is to find the right balance for how to manage our parking and for how to have a source of revenue to address parking facilities and parking needs.”
Metered parking downtown is free for the first half hour, then a dollar an hour for on street parking and 50 cents an hour for lot parking.