Work ordered stopped on city parking deck

Fearing the city might not have enough federal funds to complete the new Mid-Town parking garage, administration officials Tuesday put a work stoppage on the project, which is called Trade and Transit Centre II, along West Third Street.

Just before 4 p.m. Tuesday, River Valley Transit general manager William E. Nichols Jr., who also is city finance director, ordered the stoppage to “prevent any more liability related to federal funds.”

In an emotionally charged meeting with the Williamsport Business Association, Nichols was dismayed by late ideas expressed to not build a parking deck but instead make the space a surface lot.

“These ideas (the surface lot) came at the 11th hour,” Mayor Gabriel J. Campana said. “We were not informed until today.”

“The city has thus far spent $3 million for acquisition of the site, demolition, site work, design and engineering services, and it will cost $4 million to kill the project,” Nichols said. “I’m somewhat dismayed by comments made that, all of a sudden, a parking deck isn’t needed.”

He presented three scenarios:

Abandon the project;

Build the surface lot; or

Stay on the present course.

By abandoning the project, the following issues may arise:

A liability to reimburse $3 million in grant expenses, to date, and risk losing remaining grant funds of $2.5 million;

The inability to transfer grants to another project;

The need to secure funds to continue the project as a surface lot;

No further need to borrow $5 million; and

Future funding could be allocated to a compressed natural gas project.

If the second option, to revise the Trade and Transit expansion project were selected, the city would need:

To secure federal approval to build the surface lot;

To realize a loss of 150 parking spaces;

To reallocate $5 million to another project, such as Destination 2014.

To understand that the estimated cost for the proposed parking structure would in the $10 to $12 million range, and a project sponsor would need to be identified.

To accept that the choice could pose a liability for expenses to date, including the final design completed for the project.

The third option – continuing with the project – would:

Require assurance from the administration and council of the present project needs.

Require an explanation why the project, which is meant to benefit the Williamsport Parking Authority by River Valley Transit allocating $3 million, isn’t supported by the parking authority.

Jeopardize River Valley Transit’s ability to secure any joint development funds in the future.

Attorney Clifford Rieders said he supports Nichols, the administration and council’s efforts.

Rieders, however, issued a reminder that the city officials told Kohl’s and Wegmans there would be a parking deck.

“It could be a breach of understanding,” he said. “I think it’s a no-brainer.”

Bernie Katz, president of the business association, suggested city administrators continue to be open to elements of the business community.

“The city has new needs,” he said, urging further meetings and input as the city decides the best use of the space.