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David Meinke discovered sticker shock Thursday after he parked his car at a downtown lot, pressed a button on a self-serve meter and waited for the amount to appear on the screen.

The cost for parking at the Pay2Park lot, outside Hyatt Regency Buffalo and a block from the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center?

Thirty dollars.

Nor did the warning on the meter mince words: “Failure to pre-pay meter and display receipt on dash will result in $150 immobilization release and subject vehicle to tow at owner’s expense,” it read.

Pay2Park owner Mark Croce said parking is a supply-and-demand business, and the cars packing his lots proved his point.

But that still didn’t sit well with everyone who parked there.

“I’m all about running a business, but come on. Seriously,” said Meinke, owner of an insurance business. “We’re here for a convention and the cost is double, if not triple, what it was here last week. It’s definitely gouging, definitely businesses trying to get more than they should.”

Jose Lopez, an attendant at a competitor across the street, said he was taking misdirected grief from customers thinking his lot was run by the same company.

“It’s outrageous,” Lopez said, noting he was collecting $8, or $22 less.

Buffalo is used to parking rates at private lots fluctuating wildly to capitalize on special events. The insurance convention Meinke and 1,300 others attended was the reason for the jump in the parking rate. Less than a mile away, private operators were asking $20 at lots that normally charge a few dollars a day to park by Coca-Cola Field for the Bisons season opener.

Last month, another lot owned by Pay2Park, near First Niagara Center, charged $40 – $10 more than the monthly rate – and briefly advertised $60, although ownership denies that much was ever collected. The increase was to corral people in town for the NCAA tournament to park near the arena and exit quickly onto the highway when it was over.

Croce said he doesn’t run Pay2Park, but is kept informed of decisions that are made. He is best known for rescuing the former Statler Hotel when no one else would, and turning it into a wedding destination. He also operates several popular downtown restaurants and bars.

While in Chicago recently for a convention, Croce said he had to pay a daily $59 valet parking charge in addition to a hefty hotel rate. And that, he said, was without a special event taking place nearby.

“I just don’t understand why people demonize the parking business. Buffalo wants to think like a small town, but we’re growing and in that sense, parking is one of those supply-and-demand businesses, just like hotels and airlines,” Croce said.

“We raise our rates in multiples of tens, while the airlines and hotels do it in the hundreds. But they’re not demonized, and it’s the same type of business.”

Croce rejects the argument that raising the price substantially is “gouging” the public.

“It’s not gouging when people have a choice,” Croce said. “People want to pay for the convenience of going out their front door. If they didn’t want to, they would decide to drive a quarter of a mile or a half a mile and walk. Some people say I just want to pay what I did last week, but last week there wasn’t so much demand.”

Croce, a longtime Buffalo booster, believes the municipal lots should be charging more to boost city coffers and benefit taxpayers.

“I make no qualms that I’m in a for-profit business. The city was quick during the NCAA tournament to tell people its ramps were cheap. I say this is what tourism is all about – out-of-town money that benefits city taxpayers.”

Jessica Aronica of the City of Tonawanda lamented that high parking costs were an added burden for someone visiting Buffalo. She didn’t like it for herself, either.

“Thirty dollars for the day is absolutely ridiculous. Now I’ve got to find a parking spot,” Aronica said as she pulled out of a lot to search for something less expensive.

Thomas Lyons of the Town of Tonawanda viewed the $30 fee with wary acceptance.

“I’m originally from Massachusetts, and I know if I went into Boston now, I’d probably pay around $20 or $25 to park. So, it seems like it’s about standard to get overcharged for parking,” Lyons said.

“Standard, but still unfair,” added Jessica Carbone of Getzville.

email: msommer@buffnews.com