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City Hall open to adjusting price hikes for marina docks

Ashley Hirtzel

The City of Buffalo says it may reconsider massive price hikes for slips at Erie Basin Marina. The cost of rent for boat docks is expected to double by 2016 and then triple by 2017 for nonresidents of the city.

One longtime marina slip holder, who asked to remain anonymous over fear that she could lose her dock, says she’s currently paying Smith Boys $1,580 per year, but the price is expected to double next year.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Boats docked at Erie Basin Marina

“Next year it’s $2,100 and then $3,200 in 2017. We’re pretty upset about it. This has become our second home and some people have been here for 35 years. A lot of people are thinking about leaving, they might stick it out for a year and see what the rates are, and some are thinking about getting out of boating,” said the slip renter.

The city of Buffalo has a contract with Smith Boys Buffalo Harbor Inc. to maintain and operate the docks. Smith Boys President Brad Smith says slip rental fees have not increased since 2002. He says the hikes are warranted.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Slip renters sign at Erie Basin Marina

“Nobody likes to have the price changed, that’s a natural human instinct. Everybody like things to stay the same or even go down in price, but when you look at all of the development activity that’s going on in that region of the city it only makes sense that the pricing is going to go up and needs to go up to be fair to the city, and fair to the tax payers of the city of Buffalo,” said Smith.

The new prices are part of a renewed five-year contact between Smith Boys and City Hall. Smith says the company doesn’t control the prices. He says the city does.

“The city believes that the price increases are appropriate at this time for several reasons. The current pricing at Erie Basin Marina is below that of the private sector in the immediate neighborhood of the Buffalo Harbor. And the city has given us additional responsibilities that we are required to do, that was not required of the prior operator of the facility. These additional responsibilities increase the cost of operation and therefore some of these costs are being passed along to the slip renters,” said Smith.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Boats at Erie Basin Marina

The city has until Wednesday to cancel its contract with Smith Boys and take over ownership of the dry docks. Slip holders plan to attend Tuesday afternoon’s Buffalo Common Council meeting to urge city lawmakers to revisit the price issue.

The slip holder we talked to says boaters realize the rates are going to increase, but she says they were shocked to hear of the massive hike. She says she believes renters aren’t receiving a lot of bang for their buck at Erie Basin.

“The bathrooms, a new building, they’ve got to do a lot of work on the docks, a lot of work, they’re very old, if that would change than maybe. But, still the rates are too high for this area. These boats are older boats. They’re not brand new boats. We’re not rich people. I’m retired and I budget my money to be here. They’re going to drive us all out,” said the slip renter.

The slip holder says she’s considering moving her boat to Dunkirk. But, Brad Smith says he isn’t concerned that others will follow that lead.

“In comparison to your neighboring marinas, Erie Basin is still the premier facility in Buffalo, by far. There is nothing that holds a candle to it,” said Smith.

A spokesperson for the city says they are waiting for financial statements to come in on how the marina is doing. He says once the financials are received, "a decision can be made on possibly adjusting the rates.” Any rate change would require Common Council approval.

Update: The city of Buffalo has extended the date to terminate the contract with Smith Boys Buffalo Harbor Inc. to November 25th in order to look at the financial figures of marina operation. The Buffalo Common Council is expected to send the pricing issue to committee Tuesday afternoon and will revisit it on October 7th.