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Dormont tries to keep up with parking demand

| Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Six months after Dormont and Cochran Automotive traded parking lots off busy West Liberty Avenue, more changes in parking spaces could occur in the new year.

Borough officials and business owners hope that stricter meter enforcement in 2014 will ease a parking crunch near the borough's southern border.

The Cochran dealership group could stop leasing another borough lot in late February or March, if it finishes building a parking deck around its Nissan showroom by then.

“The parking lot next to us is too small ... It hurts a lot of businesses,” said Mandy Lin, manager at Katana Sushi Hibachi & Chinese. “During business times, a lot of working people will park here and take the T.”

Dormont traded ownership of its 75-space “junction lot” at West Liberty Avenue and McFarland Road for a pair of Cochran's lots on either side of West Liberty, around Biltmore Avenue. One of those used car lots became a borough-owned lot with 36 spaces. The dealership is leasing the other lot, above Port Authority's Park-and-Ride, to continue storing cars during the construction of a parking deck and a showroom.

The borough and its businesses lost about 39 parking spaces in the swap. But Dormont and Cochran offered complimentary valet parking for shops in the 3200 block of West Liberty, and rented 30 parking spaces at a nearby church for Thursday through Saturday nights.

Joe D'Amico, owner of Franco's Trattoria, said he's had to quash rumors that parking problems are driving him out of Dormont. But he admitted the situation is difficult.

“We've been here 13 years, and the restaurant is still very viable, but I didn't think (parking) would be as bad as it was,” D'Amico said. “I knew it would be a challenge. It's not worth closing or moving over.”

With fewer spaces available, D'Amico found his customers competing with tenants of nearby apartments for metered spaces along West Liberty on weekends and evenings.

He and Lin hope that will improve this year, as the borough steps up meter enforcement to between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Weekday enforcement hours had been trimmed due to lack of manpower, borough Manager Jeff Naftal said.

The longer hours technically took effect Wednesday, he said, but they might not be fully enforced until the borough hires a new police officer to handle the additional work.

Better meter enforcement could encourage turnover, and push renters out of business district spaces until later in the day, officials said.

Joe DeMarco, owner of Cain's Saloon, said he's more optimistic about the current parking situation than some merchants, and cited the valet parking paid for by Cochran as a boon to restaurants in the block. More meter enforcement might cost him some happy-hour customers, he said, if patrons no longer can park for free after 4 p.m.

D'Amico said he's considering changes to Franco's upscale, “white-tablecloth” atmosphere that might encourage more casual customers, and more people who could walk in.

Naftal said the valet service and rented spaces at the church appear to be a success, and might continue if businesses agree to support them even after Cochran turns over the lot between Biltmore Avenue and Park Boulevard for more parking.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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