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Parking issues cause concern for Bass Pro

Parking has emerged as a sticking point as talks to bring Bass Pro Shops to the Buffalo waterfront continue.

A source close to the negotiations said the retailer is pushing for a mix of surface parking lots and at least one parking garage within a few hundred feet of the proposed Central Wharf store. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which is leading the talks, and city officials, are said to be opposed to surface parking lots on the historic harbor site.

"On-street parking in combination with structured parking makes sense; expanses of asphalt don't," said the source, who requested anonymity.

Among the solutions offered by local negotiators is a multilevel, mixed-use building, located less than 150 feet from the store, which would offer enclosed parking for around 400 vehicles. The building also would house the planned Great Lakes/Erie Canal museum. Additional ramps would be available within a five-minute walk.

Despite the expiration of a 30-day deadline for local planners to reach a deal with Bass Pro for a Buffalo store, lead negotiator Larry Quinn has maintained a near-constant dialogue with the retailer. While few details of the talks have been revealed, Quinn has confirmed that Bass Pro is interested in a free-standing store, approximately 125,000 square feet in size, that would be built to resemble a mid-1800s wharf structure.

While shifting Bass Pro's longtime focus from a store in the idle Memorial Auditorium to the compact Central Wharf site makes construction less complicated and lowers overall costs, it has opened new issues about quick access to parking.

The riverfront site cannot accommodate the large-scale parking garages and underground ramps, with capacity for 1,500 vehicles, that would have been directly connected to the Aud store via stairways and enclosed walkways.

Bass Pro, working with Benderson Development Co., has "drawn and redrawn" site plans with various parking alternatives over the past few days. As of late Friday, none of those scenarios had gained the approval of local negotiators.

Adequate, easily accessible parking is considered a critical component for most retail development, according to Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"It's certainly a consideration for consumers when deciding when and where to shop," Duker said. "And for a destination retailer like Bass Pro, which attracts extremely large crowds, parking is a big deal."

In a 1998 study on parking requirements for shopping centers, the shopping centers council, in conjunction with the Urban Land Institute, found a workable formula of four parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space for venues of 400,000 square feet or less. Using that formula, and adjusting upward for Bass Pro's expected draw, the proposed Buffalo store would require a minimum of 750 nearby parking spaces.

If future retail development is figured in and parking spaces would be shared, the overall number of needed spaces could easily double or triple.

The cost of developing parking might be another factor Bass Pro is weighing. It can cost in the $10,000- to $20,000-per-space range to construct a parking ramp, while surface lots are between $3,000 to $4,000, depending on the location.


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