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Here we are, February 2001, my eleventh straight year as a restaurant owner in the heart of downtown Buffalo.

I have seen dozens of businesses close over these past 11 years, far too many to list in this space. Each year there is an exodus that hasn't subsided.

The most recent example is a law firm that took 48 employees to shiny new digs in Amherst. Will my restaurant and the other restaurants that those people frequented miss their business? You betcha! Is the law firm's landlord at the Statler Towers going to miss them? I would think so.

There probably is more than one reason for their defection, but I would also bet that one of the primary reasons is the cost of parking.

Most downtown employees are limited to three choices: public transportation (which is not always convenient), risky and expensive street parking at metered spaces (unless, of course, you have a handicapped tag) and pay-as-you-use parking lots.

Therein lies the rub: On one recent morning I was greeted by my parking lot attendant who told me there was a rate increase, effective that morning, in my daily rate. My first reaction was to look at the hourly, actually half-hourly rate, which also was increased.

This action comes on the heels of a New Year's Eve gift to the business people, who depend on lots like this one to hold our potential customers' cars, of a $10 fee for that night. Is this the way we expect people to be welcomed to downtown? I don't think so.

Who allows this to go on? Where is the outrage? The revolution must only be reflected in one way: A quiet move to the suburbs or a general reduction in the number of people coming downtown.

How can our civic leaders allow this? Do they think that by burying their collective heads in the sand the problem goes unnoticed?

We keep hearing how downtown is business-friendly. This is nonsense.

A couple of years back, there was some action to make parking-lot companies more sensitive to the problems. As a result, promises were made to:

Keep an attendant on duty after dark to lend a feeling of security to anyone leaving work late.

Keep the lots lit after dark.

Charge a flat rate of $2 for those parking after 5 p.m.

To my knowledge, none of these steps is in effect. What do we get instead? The second price increase in one year at the lot adjacent to my business.

I am one small business that has an unbelievably hard time keeping employees when they must pay outrageous parking fees. How can we compete with the outlying areas when our people must pay to come to work?

Occasionally we hear some of downtown's large-building owners gripe. Obviously they have no influence, so how can small operators like me who believe in the city have any power?

The situation is sickening. I feel our city government is totally ineffective in this matter. We need more than lip-service, we need immediate action to show people that the government really cares.

Changes must be made. The status quo has gotten us where we are, and where we are won't cut it.

JOSEPH S. AUGELLO is owner of Campagna Euro Grille.
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