Experiences in Special Event Parking

ace parking scott jonesIt is July 3, 1967. An early morning phone call comes into the offices of Ace Parking, Inc., located in San Diego, California. Soon the caller is talking to Evan V. Jones, Chairman of the Board of Ace Parking, Inc. The caller is the city manager of San Diego: “Mr. Jones, you have been awarded the parking concession contract at our new Jack Murphy San Diego Stadium. As you probably know, Mr. Jones, the stadium will open on August 13, 1967. Are you prepared to fulfill the terms of your proposal?” “Yes,” said Mr. Jones, “We are prepared to fulfill the terms, but the opening date is only 30 days away!” The city manager replies, “Well, Mr. Jones, we are sorry we did not notify you sooner; however, we are sure you can get everything ready by then.”

As Evan Jones hung the phone up he did not realize his company was about to begin a new phase of specialty parking. With only 30 days notice, planning the opening of the newest and one of the largest stadiums in the United States was not going to be easy.

Several things were done immediately. They included visits to other major stadiums across the country, as well as meetings with both local and out of town traffic officials that had experience with other stadiums in cities across the United States. Most of the research showed that each stadium was totally unique and separate and that there were few ground rules that applied to stadium after stadium. Because of this, the first two or three years of operation at the San Diego Stadium was a learning experience for nearly everyone involved

The San Diego Stadium is designed to accommodate 52,000 spectators. The parking area, which is over 20 acres in size, can handle 17,000 autos. This makes the parking area one of the largest parking lots in the United States and one of the five largest stadium lots in the country. Because San Diego has grown so dramatically in the last 15 years, many San Diegans had never experienced much traffic congestion in their city prior to 1967. Certainly, none of them had ever been where 17,000 other cars were at the same time.

In most cities that have experienced large crowds for sporting events, the fans were oriented to leaving their homes early and spending a large part of the day at the event. In San Diego, however, everybody expected they would be able to leave their homes 15 minutes before the event started and still have time to get in the stadium. Of course, it was impossible to handle 17,000 cars and direct them into the stadium lot in 15 minutes. As a result, public relations was the first job we found that we had. Educating the public on the do’s and don’ts of how to get to and from the stadium was very important.

To accomplish this, we enlisted the support of the local papers, which ran full-page diagrams of the Stadium with explanations of how best to get to the Stadium, along with several alternative routes for both ingress and egress.

In addition, we immediately found out how important a good working relationship with the local Police Department and Highway Patrol was to the successful operation of a Stadium parking facility. In some parts of the country, stadiums have opened and parking operators have never even spoken to any officials from their local police or traffic engineering departments. Our experience is that this is like trying to paint a picture with someone else having the canvas at another location — it is disastrous. We have found that in most cases we have had to give advice to the police on how to handle the traffic because they were reluctant to make changes on the public streets when Stadium events were in progress. After years of working with the police in San Diego, we have finally convinced them to give priority to all traffic approaching the Stadium. In some cases we have persuaded them to allow one- way traffic into the Stadium on streets which are normally two-way. This is a very important factor in having traffic flow in and out of the Stadium as efficiently as possible. Certain arteries and access routes to and from the Stadium must be maximized in order to handle as many cars as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In 1980 the Dallas Cowboys played a game against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. After the game, the Cowboys’ Management contacted us because they had observed the parking operation at San Diego and were impressed by its smooth operation. They also felt that the layout of the San Diego Stadium was similar to their new stadium that was under construction in Dallas. Eventually, we were retained by the Cowboys as their parking consultants, studying the proposed design of the parking areas at their new stadium. We determined that the plans would simply never work. We set out to come up with one that would. We worked together with Buddy Rosenthal, a past NPA president, and designed a successful plan and operation. From our Dallas experience came work from other stadiums around the country as the Dallas officials told their friends how smoothly things were going in Texas.

Our third stadium consulting job was in Buffalo, New York, where the Bills hired us to help the City of Buffalo design their stadium parking setup. From there, we worked at the Detroit Siiverdome and opened that stadium. We went on to Candlestick Park, Stanford University Stadium, Mile High Stadium in Denver, and most recently the Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Each of these stadiums was a very interesting story and had unique circumstances surrounding it. In Dallas we had our first experience with the Billy Graham Crusade, which showed us how important it was to classify types of events. In other words, if you have 50,000 attending a Billy Graham Crusade, and 50,000 attending a rock concert or 50,000 attending a Dallas Cowboys game or 50,000 attending a college football game — what you have are four distinctly different types of fans whose driving habits, occupancy-per-car ratio and even willingness to follow traffic directions vary greatly. We also found in Dallas that when the team is a good draw, demand for space far outweighs supply. The Dallas parking rates were high and the fans paid them. At one point fans were paying $3.00 just for the opportunity to be able to park and walk over a mile to the stadium!

When the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit opened there were only 9,000 stalls for 65,000 seats. We were successful in establishing a public awareness about the situation and promoted the idea of having people park off site and ride the bus to the stadium. Because Pontiac was under a major program of urban renewal at the time the stadium opened, there were close to 25,000 free off-street parking stalls a few miles away from the stadium site in downtown. We succeeded in getting 11,000 fans, or nearly 25% of the attendees, to park off the premises. In addition, Miller Parking Company and National Garages made arrangements with property owners to operate lots adjacent to the stadium lot and they always filled to capacity at these sites.

In Buffalo, New York, the City built and owned the Stadium, and the Buffalo Bills were their tenants. The Bills knew that the plans the City had were not sophisticated enough to handle the volume of traffic that would be coming to the new stadium. We advised the City on what was needed in the way of access points, street capacity, and lot design to maximize customers’ usage of the stadium lot. I will never forget being in the council chambers of the City of Buffalo and having a councilman ask me, after I had recommended various changes on the parking lot layout — “And, Mr. Jones, what textbook is your reference for giving us this information — why should we believe you?’ The answer was, of course, that there is no textbook on this subject, and our experience through trial and error was the way our company had learned. Well, in Buffalo, they still wanted a textbook reference and because we did not have one they accepted some of our recommendations but not others.

The Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii was perhaps the most challenging stadium parking operation we have handled to date. 50,000 seats and 7,000 stalls is a horrible ratio and again we were able to get 20% of the patrons, or nearly 10,000 fans, to park off-site and be shuttled to the stadium. We immediately re-designed the parking lot before the first event and added another 2,000 parking stalls. But in Hawaii the key ingredient to success was the public relations campaign that was put forth.

We arranged to have the TV news media film themselves driving to and from the stadium so that when they went on the evening news to tell the people of Hawaii how to get to and from the stadium the film showed them actually driving in their cars, “experiencing” getting in and out of the stadium shown from the driver’s view from his own car. In Hawaii, like San Diego, they had never had large crowds in any great regularity and had no parking lot that was anywhere near 9,000 stalls until this stadium lot was developed.

Because Hawaii has one of the best public bus systems of any state in the nation, we were able to convince an additional 30-35% of the people to use the bus. In order for this to work we needed to give the buses a prime location in the stadium parking lot in which to unload and load their patrons. When we made it easy for the buses to maneuver, the bus company suddenly provided the additional buses we wanted and we knew we could fill. Amazingly enough, we even got a few fans to come by boat!

Because of our extensive work in stadium parking, we have become nationally recognized experts in this area. I have talked to you about some of our experiences in various stadiums throughout the United States. Let me now give you more specific information regarding some of the technicalities of operating a stadium parking lot and some of the pitfalls.

Our method of operating stadium parking lots is to set a command post at the highest point of the stadium premises, preferably on top of the stadium itself. This command post is the heartbeat of our decision making while cars are entering and exiting the parking lot. We are in radio communication with our key employees to open and close parking entrances, direct the traffic into the areas we want, and to go to any trouble spots as they develop. The police are normally with us at this post so we can coordinate the traffic flow outside the stadium premises with the traffic conditions inside the stadium premises.

The control of revenues at a stadium parking facility should be one of the easiest of any type of parking operation to control. Because there is one rate and everybody pays in advance, cars can easily be counted by electronic counting equipment placed underneath the asphalt. There is really no other sophisticated method needed to verify your cashiers turning in the proper amount of funds for the amount of cars that have been handled. In our office at San Diego Stadium we have a large sign in a very conspicuous location that reads:

This company will not accuse any employee of lying, cheating or stealing. If your count does not agree with the city auditor’s figures you will be dismissed.

Another phenomenon of stadium parking facilities is the tailgate party and the recreational vehicle. Especially in warmer climates there is an increasing number of fans coming in early and staying late while eating in the parking lot. Many stadiums
have had to develop a strategy for handling this type of fan so they pay for all the space they are using and so that the large vehicles are parked in an area that is laid out especially for them to maximize the use of space. Today in San Diego we have a special entrance and exit that is used for: A) emergency vehicles, B) buses, and C) recreational vehicles. Any person wanting to park a recreational vehicle at San Diego Stadium must pay $12.00 per game for all 11 games in advance. For that they receive a reserved stall for the entire season. All vehicles over 20 feet in length pay for an additional parking stall. Because of our program for handling tailgaters and recreational vehicles differently we have been able to maximize the total number of vehicles parking in the stadium parking area. This will not happen if you let any type of vehicle park anywhere they want to in the lot.

We all know that the insurance liability of a parking operator is greater than it ever has been in the past. Let me advise you that at a stadium, like airports, the operator is incurring a wider scope of potentially greater liability than he is for a normal parking operation. The main concern in operating a stadium facility is that under normal contract conditions the operator does not maintain all of the facility. In most cases the operator does not maintain any of the facility. As an example, if holes develop in the parking lot, or if lighting, chains, curbing, signing or aisle ways get physically damaged or deteriorate and are not repaired or maintained in a timely fashion, the operator has an exposure over which he has no absolute control.

We had two interesting liability occurrences at San Diego Stadium. The first was at a Padre baseball game when in the seventh inning all the lights in approximately 50% of the parking area went out. There were two “slip and fall” claims filed because of this situation, and because of our contract with the City of San Diego we theoretically had responsibility for all insurance claims occuring in the parking lot. In this instance, however, because our Stadium parking manager had noted what had happened in the seventh inning we were able to get the City to be responsible for these claims because the lights going out was something we could not control and only the City could. We had to go to court, however, to prove it.

Another situation involved the degree of security a parking operator must provide for the patrons at a stadium event. After a San Diego Charger game there was an argument between two individuals and one of Ace’s Security guards tried to break up the fight. However, when the fight ended, one of the patrons ended up with some serious physical harm. This patron later sued Ace Parking on the grounds that we should have enough security guards to prevent this type of violence and protect the parking patrons who pay a parking fee upon entering. Again, we finally won this suit in State Appeals Court. The Judge said it is impossible for a parking company to have liability in protecting the patrons’ personal security after they had entered the parking lot. The Judge commented that the parking operator would have to have 50,000 security guards to watch every person and that that would be unreasonable and unrealistic.

Another area in which to be careful is the way the lot is secured when there is no event taking place. Many stadiums are public property and many people come to the stadium parking lots at non-event times and use the lots for kite flying, driving practice and other things. We had a case where a motorcycle rider ran into a chain at night and was seriously injured. You must protect yourself from these dangers.

The security of the parking lot operator’s revenues is another specialty area of stadium parking that must be considered. From the moment the cashier takes the money from the customer to the moment the cash is deposited in the bank there are unique security exposures that must be dealt with. At a minimum, always have cashiers travel together in pairs when leaving the parking office or returning from their work locations at night. The parking area should be well lighted. At our office in San Diego, we have arranged for the police department’s office to be right next door to ours and we always have coffee and donuts and invite them in any time for these refreshments. Of course, we want the public to see and think that the police office and our office are interchangeable and the police personnel are always near our office. We had a robbery at a Monday night football game between the time the cashier left his cashiering lane and the time he got into his car and drove to our office. We believe this was possibly an “inside job” but have taken remedies to rectify this so that our risk will be reduced. Make sure to have armed guards make money pickups at the cashier lanes during ingress of traffic so that the cashier does not accumulate large amounts of cash. If a robbery occurs again your loss will be at a minimum. Don’t forget to have the proper insurance coverage for robbery or theft of the money while it is in your possession.

For a parking operator working at a stadium the atmosphere can be drastically different depending upon whether the stadium is privately owned or publicly owned. Of all the stadiums we have worked on only Dallas and Stanford University have privately owned stadiums. As we all know, when working with a privately owned facility you can talk to one person who can make all the decisions. Believe me, it was wonderful going to Clint Murchison in Texas and having him call the Governor in order to get the traffic flow of a particular street or streets all one way towards the stadium during the entrance times of an event and all the opposite way during exit times. We accomplished this in Dallas in about five minutes. It took us years in other cities where public bodies ran the stadiums.

Let me say in closing that Ace Parking, Inc. and its employees have all enjoyed the work we have performed at the various stadiums throughout the country. It is very challenging and in turn very rewarding when everything works properly. We are still continually changing and improving all of the functions of our Stadium parking system in San Diego as well as in other places that we are involved with. It is a fallacy that you can set up a system in year one and have that system continue as the best and most efficient way of operating a particular stadium year in and year out. Stadium traffic flow conditions are constantly changing. As real estate and buildings develop in closer proximity to a stadium, traffic patterns change. As freeways and roads are improved or added in proximity to the stadium, traffic habits and patterns change. As new politicians come into office, policies change and the parking system has to change as a result. As the personnel of police departments change so do their policies. As parking rates change so do people’s habits such as the number of people per vehicle or their arrival time. Lastly, as the teams themselves that are playing in the stadiums have good or bad years, conditions will obviously change. Stadium parking has thus become a specialty part of the parking industry. Ace Parking, Inc. is proud to have played a part in the development of this aspect of parking.