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Market Square valet service's practices draw ire of businesses

Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
An unidentified valet prepares to take a car for parking in Market Square Tuesday, March 26, 2013. 'We're just blue collar guys trying to make a living', he said.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Valet parking was supposed to attract customers to shops and restaurants in a resurgent Market Square.

Instead, it angered diners, shoppers and merchants who complain that a valet service owned by a politically active businessman isn't following the rules.

“We're hearing a lot of outcry from the public,” said Mike Mitcham, general manager of the Primanti Brothers restaurant in Market Square and a board member of the Market Square Merchants Association. “We're trying to work out some of the kinks.”

Mitcham said employees of Tri State Valet Inc. of Green Tree have been erroneously telling drivers that they're not permitted to park in Market Square without paying to use the service. He said Tri State employees are parking cars in metered spots on the perimeter of Market Square and the upper and lower portions of Forbes Avenue instead of driving them to a designated floor of 200 spaces in the Third Avenue Parking Garage that the Pittsburgh Parking Authority owns.

“We're working on the issue. The valet company's employees are not following the rules,” Mitcham said.

Robert Gigliotti, 46, of Banksville owns Tri State Valet and William Penn Parking.

Louis Blauth, an attorney representing Tri State, said a “rogue employee” broke the rules while working as a valet in Market Square. The employee has been disciplined but not fired, he said.

“He was not acting at the company's behest,” Blauth said.

The Allegheny County Democratic Committee lists Gigliotti as a member in the city's 20th Ward, which includes Banksville. His wife, Linda Gigliotti, is a city police officer.

Gigliotti's name is among those listed as members of the host committee that organized a $500-per-person fundraiser for Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in 2011 at the Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, next to Market Square.

Ravenstahl could not be reached.

In a Nov. 11, 2011, news release, Ravenstahl took credit for establishing the valet program and a free parking program to promote holiday shopping in Downtown.

Mitcham said a staff of three valet employees collects tips from drivers who drop off their cars. He wasn't certain whether they receive an hourly wage.

Parking cars in the square and on nearby Forbes Avenue instead of the garage means the employees can handle more customers. The service operates from 6 p.m. to midnight Monday to Saturday.

Nick Nicholas, who owns Nicholas Coffee and 10 buildings in Market Square and is a partner in Diamond Market there, said he hoped the valet service would attract more customers when it started last spring.

“Some nights, he doesn't make any money because there's just not enough cars,” Nicholas said. “If he's not making money, and we want the service, then the only alternative he has is either to cheat, like he's been doing, or charge more money to the customer, which isn't going to go over well either.”

Nicholas said if Gigliotti could park 100 cars a night, “It wouldn't be an issue.”

He said he hasn't spoken to Gigliotti about the problem.

David Onorato, executive director of the Pittsburgh Parking Authority, said he was aware of the problem but isn't involved because Tri State's contract is with the merchants association.

The authority charges $3 per car for the valet service to use the garage.

Mitcham said Tri State charges $7 per car, but if a Market Square merchant validates the parking, the bill to the customer becomes $5.

Nicholas said he suspects the valet employees stopped using the garage because City Council reversed a decision to enforce parking meters after 6 p.m. That meant Tri State could park cars at metered spaces instead of the garage without fear of receiving a parking ticket.

Tri State is supposed to use just six spots between Forbes and Graeme Street to provide a revolving queue for cars waiting to be parked.

Pittsburgh police authorized valet parking variances for the six spots.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant's office processes the variance requests. Bryant did not respond to a request for copies of the variance applications.

Blauth said Gigliotti knows and is “friendly with” former police Chief Nate Harper. Blauth said Tri State did not receive special treatment in obtaining the variances from police.

Harper was indicted last week on charges of diverting public money for his own use and failing to file tax returns.

“Like all other entities who are issued parking variances by the city, Tri State Valet will continue to comply with all regulations and procedures in the acquisition and retention of these variances,” Blauth said in a statement.

The merchants association is working with City Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who represents Downtown, to obtain street signs that designate the area for valet parking and eliminate any confusion.

“If Tri State is not going to be willing to park the cars permanently, then a new valet service should be looked at,” Lavelle said.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or Staff Writer Bob Bauder contributed to this report.

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