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DOWNTOWN PARKING IS SIMPLY INSANE

The search for common sense continues.

The city knocked down a five-story downtown building last year to expand a city-owned parking ramp. The mayor bought the argument that downtown needed more parking spaces. The ramp expansion cost $13.6 million and added 850 spaces.

The owners of the parking ramp across the street recently said they want to demolish their needs-repair ramp, which holds 500 cars. They're thinking about a new building on the site. The mayor, who last year said we desperately needed more spaces and sacrificed a building to get them, welcomed the news that we would lose 500 spaces and might gain a building.

Anyone searching for logic needs an electron microscope.

Downtown parking is a system in need of sanity. Seven city-owned parking ramps are run by a private board called BCAR. It sets parking rates and brims with conflicts of interest. It works best for the property owners, particularly downtown landlord Carl Paladino, who control it. The system hurts the city and needs a do-something mayor to reform it.

Some property owners are shafted, some parkers are gouged and nobody running the show sees a bigger picture.

There is a chance for change, because the system is up for bid. Selling some ramps would bring the city millions of dollars. But Paladino has so much juice with Tony Masiello that the city rewrote the bid proposal at Paladino's insistence, presumably to favor the status quo.

The problems? Monthly parking at some downtown ramps is, at $62, cheaper than a Metro pass. It undercuts public transit and the $500 million rail system running through downtown. It fills downtown ramps with monthly parkers and leaves little room for visitors, who get gouged in surface parking lots -- some of them owned by Paladino.

Price cuts at downtown ramps a few years ago emptied perimeter lots, which cut pedestrian traffic. Cutting the number of pedestrians hurts downtown retail, which only works if people walk where the stores are.

Beyond that, the system favors some parkers over others. Ramp prices beneath the HSBC building are 50 percent higher than they are farther uptown; HSBC workers pay more so others can park for less.

Pat Hotung owns Main Place Mall but not the ramp beneath his building. He can't offer prospective tenants a block of parking spaces, because those spaces are controlled by BCAR and Paladino, and they give him only a handful. Which is partly why you can shoot a cannon through Main Place Mall.

"Carl Paladino runs BCAR," Hotung said, "and he uses it to knock me, his biggest competitor (for office tenants), out of the market."

Paladino denied he runs the system. He said that cheap monthly ramp parking works for everybody and that he merely "breaks even" on his surface parking lots.

The conflicts keep coming. As noted in a recent Buffalo News article, the consultant who oversees the system is paid $52,000 a year by the BCAR board he's supposed to oversee.

There's a crying need to rid BCAR's board of building owners who benefit from the parking rules they make, by controlling spaces or subsidizing their sub-prime office space with cheap parking. It's no way to run a system.

The parking nonsense is another argument, as if we needed one, for a better mayor -- or for a merged government that injects sanity into city life.

Then again, we could keep doing what we're doing -- demolish buildings to build parking ramps, then demolish ramps to build buildings.

It's like a dog chasing his tail. The difference is the dog, after a while, gets tired.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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