A three-year-old company based in Illinois is pitching a new idea for the city's underutilized Rainbow Centre parking ramp: renting low-speed electric vehicles from the site.
A representative of ePower Synergies Inc. has approached Mayor Vince Anello and the city's Tourism Advisory Board about leasing space in the city-owned ramp for a fleet of electric vehicles that could be rented to tourists to zip around the city.
Brian M. Klumpp Jr., vice president of marketing and sales for ePower, told the advisory board on Monday that the company is also proposing the battery-powered cars to officials at Niagara Falls State Park. "We think it's a great way to help attract people to this neck of the woods," Klumpp said.
The company is preparing to ask the City Council next Monday whether it is interested in the project to store and manage 10 electric cars at the ramp. Klumpp did not have details about how much the plan would cost the city, but he told the advisory board that the city would likely provide the space and the electrical outlets for the cars.
Klumpp said ePower Synergies may also propose a "revenue sharing program" with the city. The company is working with area tour companies to book rental reservations, he said.
The vehicles -- which are manufactured in Canada by Feel Good Cars Corp. -- are marketed under the name Zenn Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. The cars are slightly larger than a golf cart and travel up to 35 miles on one charge. They are limited to 25 mph and are not regulated for highway use, Klumpp said.
Several advisory board members questioned how the company would control where tourists drove the cars and whether they could travel over the U.S.-Canadian border.
"What happens when they do get stuck because they've gone to Lewiston and back?" asked board member Debora Krieger.
Klumpp said the company would use a towing service to retrieve vehicles that are taken out of the area. He did not know whether the cars could travel to Canada.
The proposal is the latest for the city-owned ramp, which has been subsidized in recent years by property taxes. Last year, then-City Administrator Daniel Bristol pursued an idea to build a skate park at the top of the ramp, but the project did not move forward.
Anello said he has had discussions with ePower's representatives and would like the Council to decide Monday whether the city should pursue the new project.
"We're considering it. They need a place to secure a number of their cars and the ramp would be an appropriate place," Anello said. "In a lot of ways, it's not that different from somebody leasing one of our surface lots for parking spaces."
Also Monday, the Tourism Advisory Board was urged to support a concept for a north Main Street project that would focus on the neighborhood's connection to the Underground Railroad and the work of Harriet Tubman. Kevin Cottrell, who operates the historical tour company Motherland Connextions, told the board he needs its support for the project. Cottrell is working with Councilman Charles Walker to develop a heritage tourism destination in the city's North End.