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DOWNTOWN SHUTTLE EXPANSION WILL ALLOW 200 MORE WORKERS TO GET ON BOARD

As a free downtown park-and-ride shuttle celebrates its one-year anniversary, business leaders said Wednesday that the initiative will be expanded to accommodate 200 additional workers.

Enrollment in the Park'n Go Shuttle program has ballooned by more than 50 percent since its debut last September. There are currently 700 people enrolled in the program, compared with about 460 parkers last year at this time. Officials noted that there are still 116 people on a waiting list.

Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps Inc., the entity that operates city-owned parking facilities downtown, and the Buffalo Board of Parking have agreed to provide up to $100,000 to expand the shuttle program.

Buses pick up workers at a parking lot on Perry Street near Marine Midland Arena and proceed up Main Street, making numerous stops in the central business district. Later in the day, workers board the shuttles at designated stops and are returned to the surface lot.

Buffalo Place is responsible for operating the shuttle program, an initiative that will have an annual operating budget of about $530,000 once the expansion occurs. The City of Buffalo has provided $350,000 to help finance the initiative.

David Sweet, chairman of Buffalo Place Inc.'s Parking and Transportation Committee, said logistics are still being finalized, but he expects the first phase of the expansion to be implemented sometime in October.

Robert F. Stuart, general manager of Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps, said his agency and the Board of Parking view the expansion of the free shuttle as compatible with parking planners' long-term mission.

"It's part of our overall plan to provide low-cost or free parking to help fill downtown office space," said Stuart.

On a related issue, Buffalo Place Chairman Keith M. Belanger said Wednesday that he does not expect the cost of parking to increase substantially in city-owned lots. Belanger was reacting to a preliminary draft report from an outside consultant that urges officials to consider hiking rates by as much as 62 percent.

In other board business Wednesday, directors:

Unanimously backed the so-called Mohawk site as the preferred location for a $124.5 million new convention center. The site runs along Washington Street from Huron to Mohawk and has been criticized by some who prefer locations on the waterfront and in the Delaware-Chippewa corridor. Approved a $2.7 million budget for the coming fiscal year that would hold the line on the special levy assessed to businesses located within the district.

Accepted the city's offer to coordinate the implementation of the Downtown Strategic Plan, a blueprint released earlier this month by Mayor Masiello that outlines strategies for making downtown an all-day and all-year city center. The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency is expected to approve an $80,000 appropriation to Buffalo Place and a number of local foundations will provide an additional $100,000 for the implementation phase.

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