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Erie Basin charging $5 parking fee for special events

A $5 parking fee is being charged at the Erie Basin Marina – this year for the first time – whenever the city holds special events on and near the waterfront.

Many motorists learning of the charge over the past week grumbled, with some of those complaints reaching the Buffalo Common Council.

Council members expressed outrage over the fee on Tuesday, saying the public should not be required to pay to take their car to a public park. Council members called the charge a “money grab” by the marina operator whom, they said, has no right to impose a parking fee at the city-owned marina.

“It’s a public marina,” said Niagara District Councilman David A. Rivera.

“It shouldn’t be a cash cow,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. “This is a place where, regardless of income, you can enjoy the park.”

But after checking with the city Law Department, the Council learned a contract addendum lawmakers approved in April allowed the marina operator, Smith Boys, to impose a $5 parking fee when city-sponsored special events were occurring on and near the waterfront.

Council members were aware the addendum raised boat slip fees in the marina, but apparently none was aware of the parking fee. Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said later Tuesday that the Council was told of the parking fee prior to it being asked to approve the addendum. The fee is needed, he said, to offset additional security needed at the parking lots during special events.

“With the large crowds we deal with during those events, it offsets security costs,” he said.

Greg Dekdebrun, marina manager for Smith Boys, said that in past years, parking was out of control at the Erie Basin Marina during Canalside events because the lots were the only ones around not charging a fee during special events.

“We would get inundated,” Dekdebrun said. There wouldn’t be adequate parking for slip holders coming to the marina to use their boats, or people who wanted to come to the Hatch restaurant, he said. It got so bad, Dekdebrun said, that he worried how an ambulance would be able to get through if needed.

“Then the city came up with the idea that we could charge for parking when the other lots charged,” he said.

Nevertheless, Council members said they remain opposed to paid parking, and will ask the city Law Department whether anything can be done to perhaps amend the agreement to allow for at least some free parking to remain available at all times. Perhaps, Pridgen said, some free parking can be set aside for people who only want to visit the Erie Basin Marina park, and not attend a Canalside event. Stepniak said he’d be happy to look into any options the Council suggests for the city’s Erie Basin Marina,

This controversy over the Erie Basin Marina parking comes about a month after plans to charge for parking at a new state park in the Small Boat Harbor were scrapped in the face of strong public opposition. The private operator at the Small Boat Harbor had proposed $5 parking fees at all times for non-slip holders.

The Erie Basin Marina parking fee is charged only at special events sponsored by the city, such as Thursday night Canalside concerts. The city will discuss with the operators whether it is necessary to charge a fee when major events not sponsored by the city are held as well, Stepniak said. There are no plans to charge for parking on non-event nights.

So far, the $5 fee was charged at a May 30 event, and then last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Dekdebrun said.

People grumbled about the fee, but it was effective in keeping the parking situation under control, he said. Slip holders, he said, are not required to pay the fee.

Dekdebrun said he hoped the fee would encourage people to park in other lots during events.