The Niagara Falls State Park, with its 900 parking spaces, gets the cream of the tourist paid-parking business.
There are probably only 60 to 75 days a year when the state park can't accommodate the entire influx of tourists driving in their cars to see Niagara Falls.
There is not much opportunity to change that, as long as the state park competes with the city for paid parking. The state park spaces are better, closer to the falls itself.
On July 4, Labor Day, Memorial Day and most weekends in July and August, there is enough overflow to give some business to private and city parking lots.
But that is only a few days out of the year. The rest of the year, the Rainbow parking ramp and the paid parking lots of the city will be mainly empty. All through the winter, nary a tourist will be seen parking there. The state park or the private lot of One Niagara gets almost every one.
On top of that, with the long-standing decline of downtown, the need for paid parking to accommodate nonexistent downtown jobs is not there.
In short, it is long past the time when the city should get out of the parking business.
It is a loser. It will be a loser. It has cost the taxpayers money for decades.
Thankfully, the majority of the City Council opposes Mayor Paul Dyster's plan to create a new position in the city for a "parking manager" and to spend lavishly on a business the city should not be in -- parking. Desman Associates, a consulting firm paid $25,000-plus by the city to come up with a comprehensive parking plan for downtown, is getting the thumbs down from councilmen, who say the city doesn't have the funds to revamp the entire parking system.
"They want a million dollars to work the entire thing over," Council Chairman Sam Fruscione said. "My response to that is no, we don't have a million dollars, and no, the last time we had a parking manager in Niagara Falls, the FBI intervened and had to have that person removed. I think this is something that the majority of the Council is not ready to engage in at this point in time because of the financial situation."
A million dollars?
"That's the cost to retrofit every single parking lot we have in the city, the ramps, everything, and parking meters. We just don't have the money right now for that," Fruscione said.
"To have a parking manager and at the same time privatize it is kind of confusing to me. I don't know what they're up to, and I don't see the purpose in that," he continued. "I think the purpose should be to be to make sure that the employees that we have in place now are doing their job."
At the old Rainbow Centre ramp, the current setup is overseen by the Parks Department and the Department of Public Works, and is staffed by temporary and seasonal workers, with a couple full-time maintenance workers for the ramp and the lots.
"I think that is more than sufficient to maintain them," Fruscione said. "I think it should be managed in-house."
"That's a joke," Councilman Glenn Choolokian said of the proposal. "Now you want to hire -- when the city's broke -- another parking manager to be in charge of nothing, because the ramps and the parking lots will be privatized. Why would you hire a guy to monitor a private company?
"The Council's never going to pass that. There's no way it's ever going through. To me, it's just another waste of taxpayers' money on another parking study. It seems like every couple years, whoever is mayor, they want a parking study. It's a waste of time."
There is currently no resolution for the proposal.
"It was just a presentation to see if we were into it. Myself, I see no reason to create another job with pension and benefits. This is notÊNew York City. We're talking about one ramp, and two or three surface lots, and a couple streets that we should probably have meters on -- such as Rainbow,ÊNiagara, Falls, you know, those kind of places. That all can be done, over time, very inexpensively," Fruscione said.
"We don't have 7 million people here, like we did in New York City when I was growing up," Councilman Bob Anderson said. "We don't have parking problems (here). We can do it ourselves. You have to have controls, that's all."
In a related matter, Assemblyman John Ceretto has previously sponsored legislation that would compel New York state to pay property taxes to local municipalities, such as Niagara Falls, that host state park lands. There are several instances throughout New York state where the state does this, but not in Niagara County.
Another potential revenue source proposed could be removing parking from state park property and placing it in the city, which would increase foot traffic downtown.
"I would pull the parking lot right out of the state park and have the tourists park first in the city," Ceretto said, adding that his office is looking into that possibility.
Come to think of it, should Ceretto's plan be implemented and the state park be returned to designer Frederick Law Olmsted's vision -- which prohibited commercialism in the park -- then there could be justification for developing a revamped parking business in the city.
Dyster should get to work on that first -- get the cars out of the state park and into the city.
Until then, this sounds like just another wasteful Dyster boondoggle.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 6 2012|