This week our publisher, Bill Bowman, yields his space to Dr. Hank Parfitt to address the city’s new $10 parking fees that affect downtown during home baseball games at Segra Stadium.
As a downtown resident, property owner, business owner and longtime activist for downtown revitalization, I am excited about the new baseball team and stadium and the Prince Charles development. I applaud our city council for having the vision and for working determinedly with each other to support these projects. I have enjoyed watching the Woodpeckers. It is a good brand of baseball, and it is a delight to see young families having a fun night at the ballpark.
However, the new parking fees are driving away business. Most of us accept the fact that paid parking in some form will be a necessity downtown. A parking study conducted for the city by Walker Consultants in 2018 recognizes the complexity of the problem and suggests a comprehensive array of measures requiring money, time and coordination with downtown stakeholders. Unfortunately, the city jumped to a single solution and slapped a $10 fee on the city lots before the first pitch was thrown in Segra Stadium.
Well, guess what? Baseball fans are not stupid, and they quickly figured out how to avoid the paid lots. Did anyone seriously think it would be otherwise?
On a recent baseball night at game time, I drove around and did a car count. The fans had already taken every free parking space except for the county courthouse lot, which is not within reasonable walking distance of the stadium or most businesses. The majority of the paid lots were nearly empty. And baseball fans had it finely calculated as to which lots were worth paying for. All the parking in the huge Med Arts lot was $10, but the spaces on the Russell Street side farthest away from the stadium were empty, while the Hay Street side close to the stadium entrance was full.
The downtown sidewalks, I might add, were basically deserted because our regular customers stayed away.
The $10 fee is clearly not working for businesses — nor is it working for the city. Empty paid lots don’t make much money for city coffers, yet the city has to pay more to McLaurin Parking Company, which manages the paid city lots, for the added staff. And it isn’t working for the Woodpeckers. The key to sustained attendance is for fans to see a bustling downtown when they come to a game and for every member of the family — not just the diehard baseball fans — to have a complete, enjoyable evening that might include dinner and a little shopping as well as baseball. That was the whole idea of putting the stadium downtown in the first place.
City staff doesn’t seem to realize there is a problem. In Tuesday’s Fayetteville Observer, city traffic engineer Lee Jernigan said there is plenty of free parking downtown. Of course there is — all taken by the baseball fans. The city manager’s solution is to give employees a break and charge them only $5 to give them “some real options … in the interim until we can come back with a larger and more comprehensive parking management program late in 2019 or 2020.” OK, but why didn’t they just hold off on the $10 fee until they could “come back” with that plan?
Staff is apparently tone-deaf to the consequences of the $10 fees, so I ask the elected representatives of our city to consider rescinding them for a year. That way, all types of paid parking can be considered as part of an overall strategy that is implemented over the next year with thoughtfulness and deliberation and input from all stakeholders. At the very least, open up all the underutilized paid lots now and set some aside for customers and some for employees.