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New garage, transit center may ease Penn Circle parking squeeze

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 11:25 p.m.
Cars streak past occupied parking spaces in front of several independently run businesses that line Penn Circle South in East Liberty  on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Cars streak past occupied parking spaces in front of several independently run businesses that line Penn Circle South in East Liberty on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

The dramatic resurgence of the commercial district around Penn Circle in East Liberty has resulted in plenty of new places to live, shop and dine.

But what's missing from the mix is enough places to park, some independent business owners say.

The owners of some businesses in the 6600 block of Penn Circle South near South Highland and Centre avenues say patrons regularly complain about the lack of public parking.

“I've had customers call and tell me they are coming to the shop and want to know if I can reserve a spot out front for them,” said Wendi Miller, who has operated Miller Frame for 32 years. “Obviously, I can't do that, but it does point to the concern we have about the lack of parking here.”

Susanne Gaetano, owner of the Panache fashion shop, said the city compounded the parking problem when it reconfigured Penn Circle and turned the street outside her shop from a one-way street into a two-way.

“The whole block across the street used to be for parking,” she said. “But it's been eliminated. There's also a bunch of vacant storefronts across the street and on our block that are being renovated. It's bad now, so it's only going to get worse once they are rented out.”

City development officials say the need for public parking is being addressed with “short- and long-term solutions.”

“In the short-term, I can say that there are approximately 1,000 public (parking) spaces on and off the street in East Liberty,” said Robert Rubinstein, director of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority. “Granted, they're not all at the front door of every store, but many of them are close by, and I encourage people to utilize them.”

Rubinstein said one of the long-term solutions will occur with the construction of a 550-space parking garage for the Eastside III housing and retail complex that is being developed.

Because public money is being used to help build the garage, which will take about 18 months to complete, about half of the spaces will be set aside for public parking, Rubinstein said.

The construction of a new transportation center in East Liberty is expected to reduce vehicle traffic by making the neighborhood easier to reach using mass transit.

Frederic Rongier, who owns the Paris 66 French bistro, decided to deal with the problem by hiring a valet service to park vehicles on the busiest nights of the week.

“It's expensive, but I want to make it easy for my customers to be able to come here,” he said, noting that it costs about $1,000 a month to have the service park patrons' cars on Friday and Saturday nights.

“I'm planning to talk to the owners of the other businesses around here to see if we can work together with a valet service to try to lower the cost,” he said.

“I think it might be the only solution for us to deal with the problem.”

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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