City looks to fight back over parking

January 8, 2013
Vehicles pack a small Crossroads Center parking lot above the LandAmerica building on West Beau Street in Washington Tuesday. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Washington City Council is examining its options on how to respond to a recent move by Millcraft Industries that seemingly is in retaliation for the city’s rejection of its request for an amended tax increment financing plan.

It was reported last week that Millcraft decided not to renew leases for 13 parking spaces in the garage adjacent to Crossroads Center.

Instead, Millcraft employees who work at the center that serves as the development company’s headquarters are parking their vehicles in a small semi-paved lot along Beau Street. The lot, according to council, was never intended nor approved to serve as a parking area.

“I talked with Lucas (Piatt), and he said the company was going through tough times and they were trying to make cuts,” Tom Kearns, city parking authority director, told council Monday night at its agenda meeting. Neither Piatt, chief operating officer for Millcraft, nor Brian Walker, chief executive officer, returned calls seeking comment.

While Kearns said the parking authority should be able to recoup the $7,000 loss in revenue, Councilman Terry Faust asked city solicitor Lane Turturice to check out the legalities of the lot, especially how it relates to a city ordinance regarding parking lots.

Turturice said he doubts the lot would fall under the city’s moratorium on new “for-profit” lots, but it may not meet city zoning requirements and would need a conditional use permit.

Council also is trying to determine what the lot was originally intended to be used for as no members could remember it previously being used for parking. Certain council members, however, believe it was to be site the of a 500-seat public amphitheater that Millcraft proposed building as part of the Crossroads Center project in 2004. The amphitheater was eventually scrapped, although it was still included in the project as late as 2008.

Millcraft did not renew its leases with the city garage about a month after council voted not to honor Millcraft’s request to amend the tax increment financing plan for the center.

Millcraft had requested the amended TIF proposal to enable it to refinance its bond and continue to keep the building open for business. It wanted to extend the original 15-year TIF until 2024 so it could refinance and have more time to attract new tenants.

When the original TIF was approved in 2004 by the city, Washington School District and the county, 80 percent of the new tax revenue that was paid on the Crossroads project went toward the construction of the adjacent parking garage, while the remainder of the TIF payment was split among the taxing bodies.

The TIF paved the way for the new commercial development that includes the $15 million office building and the construction of the garage.

A TIF allows the government to borrow money for infrastructure development such as roads and storm sewers, then pay off the debt using new tax revenue created by the project.

The 160,000-square-foot Crossroads building became the headquarters for title insurer LandAmerica and 350 employees. But with the economic downturn, the company abandoned the building, leaving a mostly empty structure.

Since LandAmerica left, the city has been responsible for the cost of the parking garage, which has been underused.

Linda Metz has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2000, covering Washington County courts and politics, as well as the city of Washington. She previously was employed by the Tribune Review. She is a graduate of Point Park College, now a university, in Pittsburgh.

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