Our Opinion: Seeking a Nautilus, City Hall compromise

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The heated dispute between Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Berkshire Nautilus owner Jim Ramondetta over metered parking in the lot that will replace the Columbus Avenue garage has been centered around who knew what when. That is of less significance than what happens going forward.

Mr. Ramondetta went before the City Council last Tuesday to complain that City Hall had not informed him that the new lot will include parking meters. He is concerned that the meters will chase away customers who have come to rely on the free three-hour parking in the deteriorating garage. The mayor counters that her office has communicated with the Berkshire Nautilus owner and his representatives about the metered parking and she is determined to implement the downtown metered parking plan fairly to all businesses and assure that it generates the revenue needed to pay for parking construction and maintenance work. (Eagle, April 13). What was said and not said among the parties will never be resolved and is at this point irrelevant.

Mr. Ramondetta describes himself as an "early investor" in the revitalization of downtown who deserves a break from City Hall as his business faces growing competition. He moved his business from the site that was to become part of the footprint of a new downtown baseball park, a plan rejected by voters at a referendum, to Summer Street in 2001, putting about $1.2 million into the space. The mayor points out that Berkshire Nautilus received a five-year tax incentive following the move.

Berkshire Nautilus has its own parking lot and there is some free three-hour parking available on Summer Street. Mr. Ramondetta counters that with about 200 people a day coming to his business and availing themselves of the garage parking there won't be enough free parking available once the garage is replaced by a lot containing metered parking.

Mayor Tyer says she will be pursue a solution before the next City Council meeting and there would seem to be room for compromise. Would be it possible, for example, for the city to in effect "sell" some spots in the parking lot to Mr. Ramondetta, who could distribute placards to customers to place on their dashboards attesting that they are in paid parking? This would be a concession to a valuable downtown business without losing revenue generated by parking meters.

The city's paid parking meter program continues to have its skeptics. The parking APP is advertised as a device that makes the process simple but it is doubtful that everyone with the APP knows that city is divided into sections for the purposes of parking and that a section number must be punched in when using the parking APP. A small sign by the parking meter designates the section number, which is undoubtedly known to downtown business owners, workers, and regular customers, but it is unlikely that a visitor from out of town is aware of it. Getting a parking ticket after using the parking APP might persuade a shopper to permanently avoid downtown and its retailers. City Hall needs to expand its parking education program and it should regularly inform residents not only of how much revenue is generated by the meters but how much it pays a meter person to check for miscreants and to maintain the meters in good working order.

We look forward to the reaching of an agreement that City Hall and Berkshire Nautilus can live with. We also look forward to an ambitious effort to inform both residents and visitors of the workings of the meters and the value of their presence.

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