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Wilkes-Barre parking lease canned

A plan to reap up to $30m from a parking concession in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was unpopular from the get-go. Last week, the parking authority put the final nail in the coffin on the idea.

A controversial plan to lease parking in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania came to a crushing end last week when the city parking authority voted down the would-be concession, then fired the lawyer appointed to handle procurement.

Approval from the Wilkes-Barre Parking Authority would have put in motion a plan championed by Mayor Thomas Leighton to hand over operation of garage and on-street parking to a private partner for as much as $30 million.

Instead, the authority vehemently panned the idea while casting its vote, and sent Alan Wohlstetter, the Fox Rothschild attorney brought onboard to solicit private sector interest, packing.

Wilkes-Barre, a community of 42,000, had issued a request for proposals (RFP) in June that generated a response from six consortia, according to the Leighton administration. The city has 830 metered on-street spaces, 2,113 garage spaces and 160 surface lot spots.

But ultimately, a concession would have required consent from the authority, which had expressed wariness about entering into a public-private partnership (PPP) on the basis that the asking price was too low.

That lack of support, coupled with the relatively small upfront sum involved, signalled that the plan would not survive past initial procurement, according to several people who have been following the situation.

Infrastructure Investor left Leighton spokesman Drew McLaughlin a voicemail message asking for an interview, but did not receive a call back.

In opposing a parking lease, the parking authority expressed doubt that the offer, $20 million for a 30-year concession or $30 million for a 50-year deal, was fair, while also calling into question the role of law firm Rothschild, in particular after parking consultant Desman publicly claimed to have never vetted the price or length of either package.

Leighton had planned to put part of the lump sum generated from a lease toward retiring a $7 million parking garage debt, while putting the remainder of the capital into a managed account to reduce blight and improve infrastructure.

In June, he told Infrastructure Investor that response to his idea to lease parking “hasn’t normally been positive”.

Democrat Leighton became mayor of Wilkes-Barre in 2004.