Paid parking could be coming to Kent's ShoWare Center

Kent's ShoWare Center might start charging for parking to raise more revenue for the city-owned arena.
— image credit: Kent Reporter, file photo

Paid parking might replace free parking at Kent's ShoWare Center in an effort to raise additional revenue at the money-losing arena.

"We're looking at that," said Ben Wolters, city economic and community development director.

Wolters is spearheading a committee to look at ways to raise revenue at the 3-year-old arena that has lost more than $1.3 million since it opened in 2009. The city-owned arena lost another $12,389 the first three months of 2012.

No decision about how much to possibly charge has been decided, but Wolters knows the elimination of free parking could cause a backlash.

"One of our key selling features is free parking which is unlike many other facilities and that has helped to grow interest in this building, especially during the recession," Wolters said.

But with losses of $457,480 in 2011, $398,013 in 2010 and $451,723 in 2009 at the center, changes are under consideration.

"We discussed a number of possible ideas but I'm not ready to talk about (all of) those yet," Wolters said. "If we take these steps, we need to look at what additional revenue might be created and confirm that. We also need to understand what if any ramifications it might have if we increased the overall cost of an event."

The committee includes members from the city, SMG (the arena operator) and the Public Facilities District board, which oversees ShoWare Center operations.

"I hope to explore what we're going to do and implement some of this in the next coming weeks to the next four months," Wolters said.

Kent controls the parking lots right next to the arena, which is about 1,900 spots. Drivers also park for free at King County's Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center across the street and at the Metro Transit Park & Ride lot on James Street. The Kent Station shopping center does not allow ShoWare event parking.

"This is a parking lot that's a lot more convenient," Wolters said as he stood in the arena. "You have to look at what is it you're charging for or do you package it with other amenities as part of a ticket. How you sell a convenience is an important component. We'll look and have looked at what other buildings do that are similar around the country."

Elsewhere in the state, the Spokane Arena charges $6 per stall with adjustments made depending on the event. Spokane also offers a $10 premier parking spot closer to the main entrance. The Comcast Arena in Everett doesn't have its own lot but there are several thousand complimentary parking spaces within walking distance. Parking is free at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

City officials need the ShoWare Center to at least break even financially. The city continues to set aside money in its annual capital budget fund to cover the losses. That money could be used to help pay for improvements to city streets, facilities and other capital projects.

The arena had expenses of $649,449 and revenue of $637,060 for a loss of $12,389 in the first three months of 2012, according to the SMG income statement presented April 26 to the Public Facilities District board. SMG had budgeted for a profit of $55,930 for January, February and March, so the arena actually fell $68,319 behind budget.

"We came in pretty close to budget the first month but the second month we fell behind," said Patrick McCluskey, ShoWare finance director. "The Globetrotters were down about $20,000 in profit. We had two concerts budgeted but only one took place."

That news didn't go over too well with Wolters.

"We have ground to make up," Wolters said. "We gain in some areas and lose in others."

Despite the financial struggles, Wolters said SMG has helped the arena gain traction in the market by attracting new promoters to bring events to Kent and kept the center from losing even more money in a bad economy.

"My view of where we are at in three years is that we took a wallop with the Great Recession but we're still standing," he said.

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