Committee: Stick with parking deck plans

Reversing course on the downtown parking deck construction would “be disasterous to the city” in terms of cost and planning. That’s what Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said Wednesday during the city finance committee.

Campana conferred with a city solicitor about the implications should the plans for the Trade and Transit Centre II deviate.

The city originally planned for a 246-space parking deck to be built at the site of the former Mid-Town parking garage at West Third and Laurel streets. However, on Tuesday, a temporary work stoppage was ordered by William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director.

The city finance committee on Wednesday favored 3-0 a resolution affirming the city’s commitment to the project, which was envisioned by the administration as one that will enhance the Central Business District.

“We’re not changing our direction mid-stream,” Campana said, adding he was “quite surprised” but “appreciated” the comments of a collective of downtown merchants that were made Tuesday at the association meeting.

Most of the merchants belong to the Williamsport Business Association.

“They wanted to discuss ideas such as perhaps not continuing with construction and leaving it a surface lot, or other potential uses for the lot,” Campana said. “Other individuals sought more available parking than what’s planned in the design.”

Campana said attorney Clifford Rieders examined possible legal ramifications that might arise from Kohl’s, which apparently was promised a parking garage to be built for its staff and customers. The mayor said Rieders performed the chore at no cost to the city or himself.

In addition, Campana said he will have Rettew Associates, a city consulting firm, provide him and council with information on the federal government’s role in the project, which has been planned for since 2000 and funded with a grant first obtained in 2006.

The mayor’s measures led City Councilman Jonathan Williamson, chairman of the committee, to ask Campana, “Why?”

If the city remains committed and such ideas could have taken place earlier in the visioning process, what is the purpose of justifying a 13-year-old process, Williamson asked.

Campana replied: “There’s unfounded negative comments made about my staff. They have said that some things are wrong and they would go to the federal government. My administration has been open and transparent.”

Williamson said he values the association members’ contributions to the city; however, he suggested the time to hold discussions about the future use of the property should have occurred at the visioning stage.

Councilwoman Liz Miele also suggested the city’s website provide more information related to issues such as land-development plans for projects of this magnitude to give the people as much information as possible.

Bernie Katz, president of the Williamsport Business Association, reiterated his purpose for holding the meeting and asked the administration questions regarding parking-related issues.

“We had an open meeting for new ideas to be brought forward,” he said. “There were no sides taken.”

Overall, the association believes more parking for the downtown is needed because of the new increase in businesses since the original plans were developed.

“Six years ago, we didn’t know Marcellus Shale was going to be the boost to the local economy and want more office space,” Katz said. “Six years ago, we didn’t know some downtown businesses would be hiring hundreds more employees. Six years ago, we didn’t know there would be 10 or more new restaurants, which people need to park for, to participate in their unique dining experiences.

“We need to update our vision to include the new needs that were thrust upon us through economic development,” he added.