LOCKPORT – The city will use urban planning students from the University at Buffalo to craft a report on how downtown parking availability could be improved.

Perennial complaints from Lockport business owners are being heard again, and Common Council President Anne E. McCaffrey, R-2nd Ward, contacted UB for some informational manpower.

At least two master’s degree candidates already have responded to the city’s request, and there may be more, McCaffrey said.

“I’m imagining it would be a summer project,” she said.

The interns would assess the availability of public and private parking and survey businesses on their parking needs.

“The big area of concern is behind the [public] library,” McCaffrey said.

It’s a congested area where a municipal parking lot serves customers for the library and the YMCA, while the county auto bureau and the five-story Bewley Building, the city’s most-used commercial multitenant facility, constantly overflow their parking lots.

“It’s just jammed full every day of the week,” said Charlene Seekins-Smith, owner of the Bewley Building, which has a 93-space parking lot.

Businesses on Main Street, East Avenue and Charles Street also contend for parking, with cars for businesses often using what are supposed to be lots reserved for another business.

The city has a two-hour limit for parking on the street or in municipal lots, but there are no parking meters and enforcement is spotty at best.

“They have to crack down on the people who park all day,” said George Fritz, owner of Mills Jewelers on Main Street.

His store adjoins the city’s crumbling old parking ramp, which has been closed for six years and is slated for demolition as soon as next month. The city is planning to replace it with a 42-space surface lot.

Fritz said he can’t wait for that, because he has been dependent on curbside parking. “People drive by if they can’t find a place to park,” he said. “They intend to come back another time, but sometimes another time never comes.”

Seekins-Smith suggested that when the former Jubilee store is demolished to make way for the new ice arena, the city place public parking in that lot.

“We don’t own that,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. “I suppose they’re going to need all the parking they can get.”

He said a real issue is employees who want to park in front of their job sites. McCaffrey said neither customers nor employees seem to want to walk to a store.

“Walking doesn’t hurt,” Seekins-Smith said, “but we have a big problem even if they do walk.”

“I think we have a lot more people working downtown than we’ve had in years,” Tucker said. “I don’t necessarily believe there’s a big, huge parking problem, but I’m willing to look at it.”