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The Buffalo Parking Board wants to raise its downtown parking rates and open additional surface lots to help cover the costs of the new Eagle Street Ramp, a Common Council committee was told today.

"We haven't run out of money," said its director, Thomas A. Gallagher. "But this year and the next year are difficult."

The Council Finance Committee is being asked to allow parking on two vacant lots flanking the Fernbach parking garage at Pearl and Niagara streets. The lots have been designated for commercial development, but Gallagher said a downtown office glut has postponed those projects indefinitely.

In addition, the Parking Board will consider a proposal next week that will raise daily rates by 50 cents and monthly rates by $9 at most board-operated downtown parking garages and surface lots.

Gallagher said the board wants to lower the daily rate at the Main Place Mall underground garage to stimulate more business. The proposal would lower the rate from $7.50 each day to $6.50. In addition, the monthly rate at Main Place and the Marine Midland underground garages will remain unchanged.

If approved by the board, the parking rate increases will be the third felt this year. Rates went up in February, and in June the 8 percent sales tax began being applied to parking fees.

The latest proposals are intended to offset the costs of the new Eagle Ramp now under construction, Gallagher said. The Parking Board has lost revenues from the 600-car garage that was torn down and must begin repaying bonds before the new, 1,200-car garage is operational.

The Parking Board's proposals were criticized by Council members. Ellicott Council Member James W. Pitts said the Council feared the possibility of surface parking lots at the time the Fernbach garage was proposed.

"I believe the city was duped to create the ramp, and now we have two surface lots proposed," Pitts said. "We have a glut of parking downtown. It seems we'll have a surface lot at each corner."

Council Member at Large Clifford Bell said he believes there are two floors of empty space in the Fernbach garage. He said more surface parking would hurt efforts to fill those floors.

Gallagher estimated the two surface lots would provide space for a total of 150 cars.

The two lots had been designated for separate building proposals. One called for a federal office annex along Court Street, the other would be an office building along Niagara for an advertising agency and other tenants.

Gallagher said large vacancies caused by the collapse of Empire Savings and business cutbacks by Goldome, coupled with the new Key Tower project, have undermined the market for those projects.

The committee voted to postpone consideration of the parking board request for two weeks.

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