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Schuylkill County News

Parking Authority Catches Flak Over Proposal to Charge Pottsville Outdoor Markets for Parking Lot Use

Motivation for this idea highly questionable.

There are some at Pottsville Parking Authority who believe the organizers of Pottsville Outdoor Markets events are getting a free ride at the city’s expense.

Many think that’s a load of you-know-what.

On Friday morning, the Parking Authority board was asked to consider starting to charge Pottsville Outdoor Markets organizers some kind of fee for using the Union Station parking lot for upcoming events in 2024.

That plan fell flat on some pretty resistant deaf ears though.

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Pottsville Outdoor Markets enjoyed a very successful 2023, operating either from the parking lot at Alvernia University’s Pottsville CollegeTowne or at the Union Station lot.

The event is a hodgepodge of mostly food and craft vendors who set up tents or merchant stands in the lot, similar to any other farmers market. An average Pottsville Outdoor Markets event drew hundreds of people downtown on a Saturday when they otherwise might not have any reason to do so.

It also presented an opportunity from residents in the downtown area to have access to fresh produce and meats, which is sorely lacking in that area of the city these days.

After wrapping up the last market event of this calendar year in October, organizers hinted at some bigger plans for next year.

Those plans ran into a stubborn and rather petty snag on Friday at City Hall.

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Should the Parking Authority Nickel-and-Dime Pottsville Outdoor Markets?

Members of the Pottsville Parking Authority board discuss the possibility of charging Pottsville Outdoor Markets organizers a fee for use of the parking lot at Union Station for events 2024.

On the Parking Authority meeting agenda to discuss use of the Union Station parking lot, board members saw that Jonathan Morris, one of the organizers of Pottsville Outdoor Markets, was requesting to use that specific lot a total of 6 times – once per month between April and September 2024.

The plan for the market is to expand the number of events next year. And this agenda item alludes to the fact that more market events next year will happen at the Union Station lot in addition to the Alvernia University lot.

With some of the events at the Union Station lot next year, the plan is to have a passenger train arriving from out-of-town with shoppers at the market.

The agenda reads verbatim, “Jonathan Morris is requesting that he be permitted to use Union Station one Saturday each month from April thru September 2024 NO CHARGE. These are “for profit” events, he charges each of the 60 vendors for the space. The vendors pay NOTHING to the city of Pottsville and he pays nothing to the city. Please advise how you wish me to respond to Mr. Morris.”

The ALL CAPS and general tone of this particular agenda item sound bitter and petty.

Pottsville Mayor Dave Clews (left) and Parking Authority board member Michael Weres discuss the request by Pottsville Outdoor Markets to use the Union Station lot in 2024.

So, board members were basically forced to discuss the idea of possibly charging Morris and the Pottsville Outdoor Markets for use of the Union Station lot for these events going forward.

That didn’t sit well with most of the people at the Parking Authority’s board meeting Friday morning. Most, but not all.

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Before a vote on this issue took place, authority board members heard comments critical of this proposal to charge the Outdoor Markets for use of the lot next year.

When a final vote on whether the Parking Authority should start charging Morris to use Union Station’s parking lot for the Pottsville Outdoor Markets events in 2024 eventually did take place, all voted against that except board member Michael Weres.

Weres just happens to be the City Controller-elect in Pottsville, having narrowly defeated, of all people, Morris, in the Nov. 7 election. That race and the one for City Council seats were particularly heated through the campaign season and to see this request for action just a few days after the Election is interesting, to say the least.

Business Owners, Mayor Back Request for Use of Union Station Lot

Joseph Drasdis implored the Parking Authority to “look at the big picture” on the benefits of having the Pottsville Outdoor Markets in the city.

The event got vocal support from a couple business owners in attendance at Friday’s meeting, and Pottsville Mayor Dave Clews, too, who all seemed to think chiseling the market organizers was a terrible idea.

Justin Jalbert, who operates Skookie Rides ride-sharing business, disagreed with the statement from Lipton that the city gets “nothing” from Morris co-running the Pottsville Outdoor Markets.

“I believe the city benefits from merchants coming to the area. I would also say socially, it’s beneficial as well,” Jalbert said.

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He also said vendors, namely the ones who operate at least 3 times a year in the city, must pay a Business Privilege Tax, so the idea that the city gets “nothing” is false.

Joseph Drasdis, operator of Drasdis & Son men’s clothing store in Pottsville and President of Pottsville Business Association, strongly disagreed with the assertion that Morris profits from running the markets. He explained just some of the costs associated with it that believed the board was overlooking, such as renting portable toilets and the time spent in organizing the events.

“It started off as a little market on his family’s property and it turned into something fantastic for the city,” Drasdis said.

Pottsville Mayor Dave Clews emphatically said deviating from what’s been a good thing for the city in the last number of years should not be put in jeopardy. (Coal Region Canary phots)

Clews told authority board members that nickel-and-diming Morris on using the Union Station lot would “kill the progress we’ve had with Blue Mountain Railroad.”

The Mayor added that discussions he’s had with Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad CEO Andy Muller Jr. indicate that Pottsville could become a train scene similar to Jim Thorpe in 7 years due to the presence of the market at Union Station throughout the year.

And as far as “profiting” from running the market, Clews added, “Does anyone think Jonathan is not walking away with some money. I don’t think so. Is he getting rich on it compared to the hours he’s put in establishing it? Hell no.”

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Most Parking Authority Board Members Agree

Jim Humphrey, who sits on the authority board, said the group should leave Morris run the events as they’ve been run so far.

“I say no, let him go,” Humphrey said. “It’s bringing progress. I think Jonathan’s doing a great job. It went from this tiny little thing to something big.”

Board chairman Bill Messaros echoed that sentiment and said, “We don’t want to be counter-productive.”

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