‘There’s just no place to park’

Oil City’s persistent parking woes in the North Side business district took on a dramatic twist at an Oil City Council meeting Thursday when the director of a leading employer in the city said his company is considering a move to the Butler Mall.

“It’s become untenable,” said Michael Prince, director of the Telereach Inc. call center in the former W.T. Grant building at 247 Seneca St. “There’s just no place to park.”

His reference was to parking issues related to at least two downtown projects.

Parking meters are bagged at the former Cornplanter Square, a county-owned facility now being renovated for a micro-brewery, restaurant and meeting space. In addition, two lots on upper Elm Street are also tied up because of the construction of a county transportation center and a PennDOT parking lot.

On-street parking slots on upper Elm Street are also not available.

Prince told council that his employees, who account for what he said is a $2.5 million annual payroll, number about 100. Of that number, “70 or 80 use the bus or walk but the rest drive.”

“Parking has become a major, major problem for my employees,” said Prince. “When we first moved here, we had the (municipal) parking garage.”

Noting that some of his employees “circle the block six or eight times” and then go back home or come to work late, Prince said others are repeatedly getting $15 overtime parking tickets. The latter practice, he claimed, is unfairly targeting his workers.

“My people feel singled out,” insisted Prince, adding that he believes the city police department is targeting the area around his business for overtime parking tickets while ignoring other areas of town.

The $15 tickets are discouraging many Telereach employees, said the center manager.

“I’ve lost 20 employees over the past two months because they’re late for work or those $15 tickets,” said Prince. “I can’t afford to lose 20 employees a month.”

Prince said his company has also tried to buy parking permits from the city but has been unable to obtain enough.

Police Chief Dave Ragon told council there are currently no parking permits available. That prompted Prince to contend that “PennDOT is getting the permits” for their employees who are working on the Elm Street lot projects.

“It’s critical for us,” said Prince. “We’ve never asked the city for anything … and all we get is disrespect with the parking tickets. We need help now. (This) is hurting our business big time.”

Prince caught council by surprise when he said Telereach is “negotiating to move to the Butler Mall.” He described those talks as “they want to give us everything” to move there.

“I don’t want to move to the Butler Mall,” said Prince. “I want to bring on 20 to 80 more employees in the next six months in Oil City.”

When council member Ron Gustafson suggested the parking situation will improve “when this whole hub gets built and all this is settled,” Prince replied, “Yeah, but I don’t have the time.”

While no immediate relief was offered to Prince, there was a discussion about some short-term help that may be available.

Ragon said the police department is working with PennDOT to retrieve some monthly parking permits. In addition, he said there are “15 (parking) spots” on Seneca Street near the Drake Building that are available and could be set aside for Telereach employees.

In addition, some meters may be switched from two-hour to 10-hour limits to accommodate downtown workers.

“We’re working on the parking problems,” said Ragon, adding he will work with Prince to try and alleviate some of his concerns.