Nutter, Council not connecting on $29.6M offer for garage

Posted: November 24, 2013

PHILADELPHIA A company has offered the City of Philadelphia $29.6 million for the parking garage under John F. Kennedy Plaza in a deal that includes a major upgrade to LOVE Park.

But the project appears to be snagged in yet another dispute between Mayor Nutter and City Council. The mayor sent a bill to Council on Thursday to approve the deal, but no member would introduce it.

"We are concerned that the bill has not been introduced," said his spokesman, Mark McDonald. "This winning bidder and the proposal we have is a very good one for the city's bottom line and the future of an iconic park."

Although the bidder, InterPark Holdings of Chicago, would manage an overhaul of the park, the city would pay for $16.5 million in improvements and would control the design.

The Nutter administration sought bids for the project over the summer, hoping to get Council approval in December. But Council has just two meetings next month, so the bill cannot be approved before the chamber's six-week winter break.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke has been an advocate for selling off some public assets, including the aging garage below LOVE Park.

Nutter and Council hoped to plow money from asset sales into other city needs, such as the underfunded pension system.

Clarke typically has firm control on the flow of legislation in Council, but it's unclear what, if any, objections he has to the garage deal. LOVE Park is in his district. His spokeswoman said he was unavailable to comment Friday.

A similar scenario played out this fall over funding a $50 million request from the School District. Nutter wanted to borrow the money; Clarke preferred to sell empty schools.

Nutter sent a bill to Council that was key to his borrowing plan, but no member would introduce it. The mayor eventually relented, agreeing to try selling $50 million worth of school buildings.

The LOVE Park garage, with four levels and 820 parking spaces, is in dire need of repair - it doesn't have an elevator and is not handicap-accessible. A 2006 assessment put the cost of necessary upgrades at about $7.5 million, which would be paid for by the new owner.

The new park design would have to keep the central fountain, the Fairmount Park Welcome Center, and Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture, a constant draw for camera-toting tourists.

The city's 2013 capital budget included $6 million for LOVE Park upgrades, with the remaining $10.5 million to be allocated next year.

McDonald said InterPark's bid was about $10 million more than the administration had estimated, but there's a 120-day window.

"So we need to move on this," he said.



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