It's no secret that the downtown parking business can be lucrative during the tourist season here, and Councilman Sam Fruscione wants to make sure the city-owned ramp is attracting as many drivers as possible.
Fruscione thinks seasonal city employees should flag down motorists near the city-owned Rainbow Centre Ramp on Rainbow Boulevard South, now named First Street, this summer so it can compete with nearby private parking lots that use the same tactic.
"To me it looks like they're winning the battle," Fruscione said. "If we can do flagging, we have a good chance of getting the cars first."
Local developer Frank Parlato Jr. last year ran a bustling parking business in front of the former Occidental Chemical office building across the street from the city's Rainbow Ramp, and his parking lot attendants were very visible.
Under the city parking ordinance, a private lot cannot be established in the downtown commercial district unless it is supplying off-street parking for an associated business.
Parlato was cited with running an illegal parking lot two years ago, but the city's Planning Board has deemed the lot to be legal because he now operates a tourist retail hub inside the first floor of the building.
Another nearby lot is run by businessman Vince Catanzaro at Niagara Street and Rainbow Boulevard North, and it was grandfathered during the 1990s through a certificate of occupancy.
Mayor Vince Anello said he wants to increase revenue at the city's 1,668-space ramp but believes flagging cars poses a safety hazard. He said city employees used flags last year to help direct traffic into the ramp when the roads were congested.
"The only danger is once you get into a situation where you might create a traffic problem," Anello said. "It's against the law."
The mayor said both private parking lot owners have been cited by the city's Police Department because their employees are not allowed to be in the street or sidewalk.
"The fact that both private lots have hawkers creates a major problem all around," Anello said. "We're going to make sure everyone complies with the law and we're going to be . . . very strict on that this year."
Fruscione said he spends a lot of time downtown to make sure his Niagara Times advertising brochure, which promotes the Pine Avenue business district, gets to visitors. He said he doesn't want the city employees to stand in the street or sidewalk.
"I want to keep it professional," he said. "Never in my entire career in the tourism industry have I seen a [city] flagger down there . . . Maybe I'm wrong but I've never ever seen one."
Meanwhile, the mayor said the city has struck a deal with the Niagara Falls State Park to send drivers to the Rainbow Ramp once the state-run surface lot two blocks away on Prospect Street is full.
The state uses an employee to direct traffic that backs up at the entrance to its lot, but does not use flaggers.
Anello said he's working with the city Traffic Advisory Board on a plan to put up new standardized signs to lead drivers to the city ramp, which is what he said other cities use to attract drivers.
The city transferred more than $670,000 from its general fund to the parking ramp account in 2005 in order to meet expenses, and is expected to do the same this year.