ANYONE WHO has lived in Center City knows it's tough to find a parking spot near home. It goes with the territory, living in a densely packed neighborhood.
The residents on and around the 500 block of South 16th Street understand this, especially those on nearby Naudain and Rodman streets, narrow alleys with no street parking.
So I can understand their long-held frustration with one neighbor who has claimed almost every parking space on 16th Street from Lombard to South.
The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest African-American newspaper in the country, has called 16th Street home since 1912. The Tribune has about 16 spaces on the street marked with "Press Only" parking signs. That means only cars with city-issued press parking stickers can be parked there from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
I took a walk on the block last week after hearing complaints from neighbors that the Tribune has been steadily increasing its number of reserved spaces. I found half the spots empty one afternoon and neighbors told me almost all are vacant on Saturdays. That waste of parking adds to their frustration.
The concern about the Tribune's parking isn't limited to neighbors. Jessie Frisby, who runs two businesses around the corner from the newspaper's offices and is president of the South Street West Business Association, says the arrangement forces neighbors to park in front of businesses on South Street.
"We have a shopping area here and we have no parking," Frisby said. "It's beginning to be a big fight because they're smothering us out."
The neighbors, in April 2005, sent a petition with 70 signatures to City Council President Anna Verna, asking for help.
Verna passed the petition on to Mayor Street's staff.
Last week, I asked Loree Jones, the mayor's secretary of external affairs, if anything ever happened with the petition.
Before I tell you her answer, this would be a good time to explain that Tribune CEO Robert Bogle has serious political juice.
Bogle is Gov. Rendell's appointee to the Delaware River Port Authority. He was an investor in the only casino application supported by Street last month. That venture failed to win a license.
And the general counsel for the Tribune, while it was acquiring some of those press parking spaces, was attorney Ron White.
White was Street's go-to guy for campaign fundraising until he was indicted in 2004 on municipal corruption charges. He died before getting his day in court.
Last week, Bogle defended his press parking spaces, pointing out that his neighbors all knew they were buying homes near the newspaper.
Bogle said that, from his staff of 78, he allows 32 people in his editorial and advertising departments to use the press spaces. He rejects a suggestion from his neighbors that his company should be limited to three to five spaces.
"Who can decide if it's three or five or seven?" he asked.
That should be the city's job.
The city does post press-only parking signs near many other media outlets in Center City. The Daily News and Inquirer once had press parking on Callowhill Street, though those signs were removed years ago.
The mayor's office last week promised to show me a roster of press parking spaces in the city, but did not produce it.
Back to Jones: She notes the Tribune has had press parking for a long time. She understands the number of spaces has grown in the last few years and she sympathizes with the neighbors.
Her short answer: The city has no plans to change the Tribune's press parking at this time.
The issue is getting hot again because the Tribune wants to convert a rowhouse across the street from its headquarters into new offices. Neighbors opposed that plan in a zoning-committee meeting of the Center City Residents Association last week.
The Tribune's plan might only be marginally linked to the parking woes, but this is one of those times when a neighborhood is so ticked off about one thing that it's ticked off about all things.
The Tribune's plan comes up tomorrow for review by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, where community opposition is often regarded as the kiss of death.
History holds little hope for a compromise. Residents struck a deal with the Tribune in 1995 to trade their consent in another zoning matter for less press parking. The Tribune got its zoning but then-Mayor Rendell's administration refused to honor the deal. *
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