Saturday, February 02, 2008

Onorato's plans to privatize part of county's parks does NOT wash well with me

Most of all, I have no faith in Dan Onorato.
Onorato discusses plans to privatize part of county's parks
By Allison M. Heinrichs TRIBUNE-REVIEW

About 150 people gathered at Boyce Park this morning to discuss plans with Allegheny County officials to privatize part of all nine county parks. Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato said he plans to put out for bids operation of ski slopes, golf courses, wave pools, horse stables and other amenities in the county's 12,000 acres of parks.

"There's no reason we shouldn't be making money on these facilities," said Onorato, who spoke at a town hall meeting in the Boyce Park ski lodge. "We need to think outside the box."

Onorato said the parks are 20 years behind on maintenance. He said he has set aside $10 million to match dollar-for-dollar any private money raised for park improvements in the next year.

For more information visit and click on the Parks Action Plan.

Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at or 412-380-5607.
Here we go again. It wasn't too long ago when I railed against the 'thinking outside the box' plan of the PDP (Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership) in its efforts, along with Bob O'Connor originally, then Luke Ravenstahl, to put up WiFi in certain areas of downtown. Everyone else, mostly, thought that this was a great thing. Mindless boosterism can't be healthy either.

One can go 'outside the box' and be 'dead wrong.' After death, they put people in the box. Frankly, our region is dying -- because we are too often outside the box in a sense of doing what should NOT be done and failing to do what needs to be done.

Parks maintenance is 20 years behind the times -- so says Onorato. Well, Dan, that means as Allegheny County Executive -- you have been a total failure for the past five years. And, as county controller before that, you were a failure as well.

I agree that the parks are down and out in their conditions today because of neglect. Dan Onorato is to blame, mostly. Same too for the others on the Allegheny County Council.

Even when Onorato was on city council back in the late 1990s, Onorato did NOTHING for our parks.

They never give enough attention, effort and support to parks programs. And Jim Roddey thinks Onorato has been doing a wonderful job. Jim Roddey's big upgrade to the parks system was the addition of a jersey barrier at South Park in the wake of a senior driver who smashed up some pedestrians walking along the side of a road.

Well, at least we are not talking about Onorato's killing of the Geese.

The last time there was a 'parks master plan' with city government (not county), I went to a number of meetings. At the final meeting I made one very important suggestion. I suggested that the name of the final document be changed. They did not deliver a 'Master Plan' as titles and advertised. Rather, so as to stop fooling ourselves, the document should have been called a 'Parks Lesser Plan'.

Those were the days before there was much blogging.

We had a park facility very near to our house that was handed over in an effort of privatize its operations. The private owners invested in the physical building. They had a great partner too, as well as a boom market where the activities were wildly popular. Furthermore, there was a city-wide exclusive woven into the deal.

The city gave a 99-year lease to a guy name Paul S to operate its lone, indoor ice rink that is located in a large city owned park that is just behind South Side Hospital. A roof was constructed over the once outdoor ice rink and the Pittsburgh Penguins were tenants. They held their practices as the rink. Once, when the NHL held an All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, most of the NHL All-Stars went there for a practice too.

Today, that park and its rink is closed. It has been closed for years.

Dan Onorato could have -- and should have -- stepped up to the task of getting the County Parks to work a deal so as to 're-privatize that rink and its operation.'

Hell, Dan and Luke can't even come up with a Community Benefit Agreement for the NEW Penguins Arena so it blends well with the hopes of the city residents.

When the ice rink on the South Side started to 'skate on thin ice' -- and look weak around the edges, I made a few calls. I pushed our city council member, Gene Ricciardi, then chair of the Citiparks Committee, to investigate the situations. The lease called for a certain number of hours of public access to the facilities. That had been broken. The lease called for local hockey teams to have access to the rink for both games and practices. That was fleeting. They started to turn the rink into a place for concerts.

I asked for some city oversight. This was city property. There was a lease. Terms were not being upheld. And those in city government did NOTHING. They turned a blind eye on the folly that would happen. Who else remembers seeing the Zamboni driving down East Carson Street one night?

The city and county offer nothing in terms of management in this realm.

This is so frustrating.

To this day, the ice rink on the South Side sits vacant. And, every other month, I get phone calls -- yes, they call me -- from around the nation asking about the rink. Most recently, in December, a group from Florida wanted to send in a letter of understanding to the city to get the operation back on-track with that ice rink. I told them, 'good luck, and don't hold your breath.'

They are clueless.

Here is what I'd do. Call for a global discussion about the parks. Put everything on the table. Hell, I'll be happy to debate Onorato and Ravenstahl in five different parks in five different night to start off the discussions. The best outcome will include citizen engagement. And in short order, we should rip the ownership of the parks out of the grasp of those who work on Grant Street. We should wrestle the park's control and ownership away from Onorato and the rest of them by forming a NEW, consolidated, governmental entity -- the REGIONAL PARK DISTRICT.

I want elections, open meetings, Sunshine laws and public process for these public spaces with PARK TRUSTEES making all the decisions.

The state of Illinois, Barack's home state, has this model of government with PARK DISTRICTS. That is a good model and one that needs to be understood here.

The we take the RAD TAX and re-do it with an eye to the new Regional Park District. Two or three years later, we take ownership of the Stadium and Exibition Authority too. That should operate, as well as the stadiums -- under the umbrella of the Park District.

If Onorato really wants to promote "private ownership" of parts of these parks, then he should insist that the Pittsburgh Penguins own the new hockey arena. The Penguins are only going to lease the new building. Yet, the Penguins are going to call the shots. Everything in their world is upside down.

Onorato should sell Heinz Field, PNC Park and the new arena NOW -- before he sells off parts of Boyce Park, North Park, South Park, Settler's Cabin and Deer Lakes Park, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

right on Mark