Correction: This story incorrectly reported that the Centennial Authority had approved an parking increase at the PNC Arena. The authority board did not vote on the increase, which was approved by Gale Force Sports and Entertainment, a private company that operates the arena.
RALEIGH - With NCAA basketball tournament action coming to PNC Arena this week, fans who havent been to the 19,000-seat venue recently could encounter some sticker shock at the gate.
Theyll be asked for $15 cash to enter the parking lots $5 more than the arena charged a year ago. Anyone attending concerts such as Aprils Miley Cyrus show will pay $20 to park.
On Sunday, the parking fee was enough to send dozens of Carolina Hurricanes hockey fans across the street to a free N.C. State Fairgrounds lot. For a team thats not doing so well, $15 is way too much, Dylan Frank said as his family began a rainy half-mile walk to avoid paying.
Larry Perkins, assistant general manager of PNC Arena, says the parking fees cover the cost of getting thousands of fans in and out smoothly. For a typical event, the arena employs 75 people to direct traffic and 25 police officers to ensure security. They set up cones, barricades and electronic message boards and provide shuttle services to older guests and those with disabilities.
If people think were getting rich off of parking, thats not the case, Perkins said. Most of it is just enough to pay the bills.
Perkins said the arena doesnt release figures detailing those bills, but he said theres also steep maintenance costs for keeping up 8,000 parking spaces.
Visitors to similar arenas in downtown areas can expect to pay less to park because the lots and decks stay busy when the arena is dark. At Charlottes Time Warner Cable Arena, nearby decks typically charge $5 to $10 but thats because the same spaces can serve downtown workers and visitors throughout the week.
With PNC Arena located in a suburban area of West Raleigh, its acres of parking are empty most of the week. The choice of location intended to save money has long drawn fire from proponents of a downtown arena, and PNCs visitors pay for that decision each time they park a car there.
The parking hike from $10 to $15-20 happened last June following approval from Gale Force Sports and Entertainment, a private company that operates the arena.
In the survey, there are a lot of venues that have been at that $15 level for years, he said, pointing specifically to several arenas in New Jersey. Were right in the middle.
Before the 2013 increase, the arenas parking rate hadnt changed since 2008, when it increased from $8 to $10. If we had raised the price every year, it wouldnt have been as big a jump, Perkins explained.
How to save $15
To ease the pain of spending $15 or $20, PNC Arena encourages carpooling to events, and it also partners with Pepsi Bottling Ventures to offer a free bus service.
Before each Hurricanes and N.C. State basketball game as well as most concerts two Caniac Coach buses deliver fans to the arenas main entrance. One bus picks up from 17 stops in downtown Raleigh, Cameron Village and Hillsborough Street; the other serves nine stops at North Hills, Seaboard Station, Five Points and Glenwood South. The goal is to stimulate business at restaurants and bars before games and shows at PNC.
Detailed routes and schedules for the Caniac Coach are online at caniaccoach.com. It has become more and more popular, Perkins said.
For those whod still rather drive, free parking can be found for most events within a half-mile walk of the PNC Arena doors. The most popular is a lot on the State Fairgrounds property at the intersection of Trinity Road and Youth Center Drive.
State Fair spokeswoman Sarah Ray said theres no towing or ticketing on the fairgrounds property, but the lots arent official parking for PNC Arena events. Do we encourage it? Probably not, because we have one security guard, she said. Youre parking at your own risk.
Ray also pointed out that the fairgrounds gates close promptly at dusk, and any cars parked inside the fence will be locked in for the night. Several lots, however, sit outside the fence, including the lots stretching along Trinity Road and those along Hillsborough Street near Dorton Arena.
No parking at Gibbons
Some people try to park at Cardinal Gibbons High School, which sits directly across Edwards Mill Road from the arena. The school is private property and reserves its lots for campus happenings, which often take place on evenings and weekends. We have our own events, so it creates a problem for us, Principal Jason Curtis said.
Curtis said he hasnt noticed an increase in illegal parking at the school after PNC Arena raised its fees. I think more people are getting the message, he said.
Across the street, Perkins said hes not sure when the arena might consider another parking fee increase. Its really hard to say, he added. We certainly dont take any pleasure in raising the price of anything.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter