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Buffalo lawmakers seek alternative to $5 parking fee at marina

That $5 parking fee for special events at the Erie Basin Marina is getting a critical eye from city lawmakers who are looking for an alternative that can be implemented quickly – possibly within a week.

The marina manager told lawmakers Tuesday that the fee was imposed because, without it, the parking lot overflows with Canalside attendees during special events on the waterfront, creating safety problems and making it difficult for slip holders and others to find parking.

Council members said they understand the problem, but that charging everyone – except slip holders – a $5 fee to park at the marina when Canalside has an event isn’t the answer.

“I don’t think $5 is the solution,” said Lovejoy Councilman Richard A. Fontana. “I want to scrap the fee. I enjoy going to the marina, but I don’t want to pay $5 to do it. Nor do other residents of the City of Buffalo.”

In addition to the fee being restrictive, Fontana said the fact that the marina only takes credit card payment – no cash – makes the fee even more exclusive.

“By charging $5, all you’ve done is turn the marina into a parking lot,” said Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera.

“I’ve gotten more calls on this than anything in a long time,” added Council President Darius G. Pridgen. “Those who live in the city want to go to the park. It is their right.”

Council members tossed out a few suggestions, such as maintaining free parking, but enforcing parking limits at the marina lots; or providing free parking for marinagoers while upping the parking fees for those parking at the marina to attend a Canalside event.

But the Council members said they weren’t trying to solve the issue at the committee meeting Tuesday when the topic was discussed.

Instead, they formed a subcommittee that will, among other things, research how other communities with successful waterfronts – including Baltimore and Chicago – deal with similar problems.

The committee is being given a week to complete its work. Council members said they want the issue resolved quickly.

“This cannot drag on for a month or two,” Pridgen said. “This has to be a top priority. This has to be something that happens in the next days.”

Pridgen said he wants a solution when the Council meets June 23.

Council members last week said they were surprised to learn from disgruntled residents that the marina was charging $5 to park during Canalside events. It turned out that the Council approved a contract addendum with its marina operator in April that, in addition to raising boat slip fees, allowed for $5 parking fees whenever nearby lots operated by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency also charged.

The BURA lots charge a $5 fee during certain Canalside events, city officials said. The funds raised through the parking fees are used to hire additional security needed in the marina lot during events at nearby Canalside, said Greg Dekdebrun, marina manager for Smith Boys, who operates the marina for the city.

Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak last week said the Council was told of the parking fee prior to the body being asked to vote on the contract addendum.

Council members Tuesday said they were not told of parking fee prior to the vote.

“It was never mentioned,” Rivera said. “If they did bring it up, I would have opposed it.”

The parking fee was first imposed during a May 30 event, and again when Canalside events were held June 4, 5, and 6.