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City of Buffalo rolls out event-night street parking rates for first time

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Thursday night's Buffalo Sabres home game was the City of Buffalo's first opportunity to roll out new event-night parking rates for streets near KeyBank Center.

The city's parking commissioner defends the new parking rates introduced this week, suggesting they don't discourage downtown parking but, rather, will encourage it by creating more turnover and, as a result, more frequent openings in front of businesses.

On-street event parking for events at KeyBank Center will be enforced from the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the evenings of each occasion. Motorists have the options of paying two dollars per hour or, in some cases, four dollars for ten hours. The latter option is available, for example, for Sabres fans who park on Exchange Street.

Buffalo's Parking Commissioner, Kevin Helfer, said he and his staff would be outside KeyBank Center Thursday evening to help visitors with questions about the new policy. City officials are also hoping to encourage more people to begin using Buffalo Roam, an online app that allows subscribers to pay their parking fees via their smartphone.

"As you know, we are really pushing our technology," Helfer said. "Our Buffalo Roam app has been unbelievably successful. We want it to be even more successful."

Helfer estimated about 35 percent of parking payments are currently coming via Buffalo Roam. The hope is to raise that number to 50 percent later this year.

Streets covered by the event parking rates around KeyBank Center include Exchange between Washington and Michigan, Lloyd, Hanover, South Park, Perry, Mississippi, Prime and Columbia Streets. Helfer says signage will be posted at the corners of Michigan and Seneca, Swan and Washington and Pearl and Exchange to inform motorists of the event-night rates. He also anticipates the city will have more information, including calendars, on its online platforms.

"That's what we're working on right now," he said. "That calendar of events for January will show when event parking will be in effect at KeyBank Center. It'll show when event parking will be in effect at Sahlen's (Field). It will show when event parking will be in the Theater District. I think it will held clarify things."

Helfer defends the city's updated higher parking rates. He suggests the new prices discourage people from dominating street spaces all day, thus creating more parking space turnover which, in turn, gives customers and visitors more options. That, he says, will actually help businesses.

"What's happening when you have a dollar-an-hour rate is people are parking on the street in front of a business, in front of an establishment, for eight dollars. Cheaper than when you go to a lot, cheaper than when you go to a ramp. That hurts business. That hurts accessibility. That hurts someone that wants to come down," he said. "We raised it to two dollars an hour so they're not going to be encouraged to park and take up that spot for the whole day. That's the logic behind it."

He also told reporters that the city wants to further promote its "night monthly" program. For a flat $30 monthly fee, motorists may park their cars in any city ramp every day from 3 p.m. until 9 a.m. the following day.

Later Thursday, the erie County Legislature passed a resolution urging Buffalo's Common Council to revisit changes to downtown parking and allow for more public input.

“Increased street parking rates are bound to hurt small businesses downtown," said Legislator John Mills. "Those establishments, their employees and their customers deserve access to affordable parking. The Common Council needs to go back to the drawing board and find a solution that keeps visitors attracted to our region. With Buffalo being the critical mass to Erie County, it should be more user friendly to all residents and visitors.”

“Buffalo’s resurgence has encouraged many people to visit downtown and surrounding areas like Canalside, said Legislator Lynne Dixon. "High parking fees are likely to turn people away at a time when we should be trying to increase tourism and downtown visitors. I’m hoping the city will adjust its plans in support of more affordable, accessible parking.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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