Impact of Market Square valet-parking service on patrons begins to unfold
Joe Smetana said he knew something was amiss when a valet told him they “owned” all the parking spots in Market Square.
“No one owns these spots down here. I told them this is not right,” Smetana told the Tribune-Review.
Smetana, 49, of Munhall said his car was improperly towed from a spot in Market Square claimed by employees of Tri State Valet Inc., which came under scrutiny from police this week.
The Trib reported allegations that the Green Tree company forced visitors to use the valet service, used dozens of street parking spots instead of a designated Pittsburgh Parking Authority garage and violated conditions of a valet parking permit granted by police.
“I'm concerned about how many other people got their cars towed and were caught up in this scam,” Smetana said. “They should not have permission to park cars in Market Square.”
Robert Gigliotti, 46, of Banksville is president of Tri State Valet. He declined an interview request. His lawyer has blamed the problem on a rogue employee.
Gigliotti, whose wife is a police officer, is politically active and a friend of ex-police Chief Nate Harper.
Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant, who approved the parking variance for Tri State, said she plans to review the company's practices.
“We will look into the allegations that are being made,” Bryant said.
Asked if she felt political pressure to approve Tri State's operation, Bryant said, “I can't speak to any connections.”
Smetana paid a $115 towing fee and a $90 parking citation for the October incident. He contested the citation in court and hopes to recover his money. When he parked his car, there was no sign indicating it would be used by the valet service, he said. He returned hours later to find it was gone.
To strengthen his court case, Smetana obtained a copy of a police-issued valet parking variance that permits Tri State to use six spaces in Market Square as an area for visitors to pick up and drop off their cars.
It says the spaces are available from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., but “No Parking” signs placed by the valets indicate 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. The variance states the public can't be forced to use the valet service.
Smetana took photos of valets blocking off large sections of Market Square with orange cones and shutting off access to Graeme Street.
Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford provided a copy of the variance to Smetana on Feb. 21, according to an email he provided.
Montgomery-Ford processed the applications for variances, said Warner Macklin III, a spokesman for Montgomery-Ford.
“The assistant chief (Bryant) would make the final decision,” Macklin said. “(Montgomery-Ford) has no authority to decide who would receive the variances, how many spaces. Her job was to pass on information to the assistant chief.”
Montgomery-Ford is one of four people whom acting police Chief Regina McDonald suspended with pay last month as word spread about a scandal involving secret accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union.
Harper plans to plead guilty to federal charges of failing to file personal tax returns and diverting more than $70,000 to the accounts in part to pay for meals, alcohol, electronics and other personal expenses, his attorneys said.
Tri State handles valet parking at other hotspots including Morton's The Steakhouse and The Capital Grille in Downtown and LeMont Restaurant in Mt. Washington. Gigliotti was part of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's re-election host committee in 2011 and is a 20th Ward committeeman for the Allegheny County Democratic Committee.
Ravenstahl declined to discuss his connection to Gigliotti. He said resolving the dispute is up to the Market Square Merchants Association, which hired Tri State and told the Trib about complaints from drivers.
“If necessary, they can decide to either discontinue the service or change operators,” Ravenstahl said in a statement.
It costs $10 to valet park in Market Square, but customers can reduce that to $7 if a restaurant or business validates the ticket.
Bryant plans to order a round of compliance checks of all valet parking services operating in the city. It has been months since officers last did so, she said.
She has revoked valet parking variances based on complaints, but not Tri State's, she said.
Bryant estimated 118 parking variances exist in the city.
Though the form requires an off-duty police officer to be present where the valets are operating, she said she doesn't think one worked for Tri State.
Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.