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Appraisal of Pittsburgh parking assets will be sought

| Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

City Councilman Patrick Dowd plans to introduce legislation this week directing Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to seek an independent appraisal of some Pittsburgh Parking Authority assets.

Dowd's legislation, which council could discuss Thursday, follows the authority's refusal to hire experts to study the feasibility of the authority buying a garage and lots with borrowed money that would be invested in the city's retirement funds.

Dowd believes the idea is still worth exploring.

"Nobody has said this is a bad transaction," he said Monday. "They said the price of (a study) is too high."

The city faces a Dec. 31 deadline to raise the pension funding for 8,000 active and retired employees from 27 percent to 50 percent of an estimated $1 billion in obligations, or face a takeover by the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System. State officials said they expect to tell city officials this week how much it would pay annually into pensions under state management.

"They can study whatever they want to death," Ravenstahl's spokeswoman Joanna Doven said. "The mayor is not going to issue new, irresponsible debt -- period."

Council last month rejected Ravenstahl's plan to lease garages and metered spaces to a private company for 50 years. Council members then proposed selling Mellon Square garage, five lots and 7,000 metered spaces to the authority, which would borrow at least $220 million.

In a 3-2 vote, the authority refused to hire experts to study the plan. Board member Linda Judson expressed concern the authority would have to pay for a study.

Dowd's legislation says the authority "expressed interest in the proposed sale but was unwilling to pay for the independent analysis required to offer a proof of concept of the sale."

Dowd said if an independent study on parking assets showed the idea was a good deal, the authority could pursue its own study.

The legislation calls for the mayor and city's director of operations to issue requests for bids for professional services, including an independent appraiser, a parking consultant to develop parking rates, a financial advisor and bond counsel.

Council President Darlene Harris said she hadn't discussed the legislation with Dowd.

"It's not up to council to do an analysis," Harris said. "That has to come from the Parking Authority."

Councilwoman Theresa Smith, who voted against council's plan, said Dowd's legislation "just adds fuel to the fire. It's not adding to anything."

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