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Smith Center patrons now must pay to park at events

Updated November 4, 2019 - 7:54 pm

Patrons now have to pay to park to attend events at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown, continuing a recent trend in the Las Vegas Valley.

Three garages operated by the city of Las Vegas feature a $5 flat fee to park for Smith Center events. The fee went into effect last week.

There are just over 2,000 parking spots between the existing City Hall parking garage on Main Street, the Promenade garage that opened last week and the City Parkway garage that opened Monday. There are no other parking options for The Smith Center.

The Promenade garage is located west of the Discovery Children’s Museum and the City Parkway garage is located just east of the Smith Center. The two new garages were built using tourism improvement funds, according to Las Vegas City Manager Scott Adams.

Parking during First Friday and other nonprofit community events will also be $5. Aside from special events, regular rates at the new garages are $2 per hour, or $10 daily. Rates at the City Hall Garage are $2 per hour, or $8 daily.

The City Hall parking garage was already used by some who attended Smith Center events, with a pedestrian bridge from the garage to an area near the center. That garage was free during Smith Center events up until last week’s announcement.

Smith Center President and CEO Myron Martin said residents who’ve reached out to him and his staff about the fee were blindsided by the announcement, as he was himself.

No test run?

Although Martin knew parking for the Smith Center would eventually feature a fee — as the city agreed to provide free parking for the Smith Center for five years when it opened in 2012 — he was under the impression there would be a test run of the new garages ahead of the parking charges kicking in.

“When they (the city) started building them (the garages) there were no conversations with us in the early days about charging our patrons for parking,” Martin said. “Even as recently as a few weeks ago, our understanding was that the city, when they opened the garages … their intent was to have a soft opening. Meaning they’d open the garages to our patrons without charge, so people could get used to pulling into the garages and knowing which garage is best for them before charging them to park.”

The city is required to provide 1,200 parking spots dedicated to the Smith Center during events throughout its 99-year lease, Martin said.

The city receives all profits from the trio of parking garages with none of the money going to the Smith Center.

Adams said the parking fees taking effect shouldn’t be a surprise as the two sides have been in contact over the last several months, ahead of the two new garages opening.

“We’ve been discussing the garages and when they would open. It’s not like it’s a surprise that these were going to open,” Adams said. “We have been in earnest discussion for six to 12 months with the Smith Center about what would happen when they open. We have been very consistent that we would charge to park.”

The new parking garages are also being used to help induce private development in the area, which is already drawing interest. A proposed Marriott Hotel development and Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada headquarters could open in the area, each of which would use one of the new garages for parking, Adams said.

$20 fee discussed

Although disappointed with how the paid parking process rolled out, Martin said the price is reasonable, as up to a $20 charge was discussed.

“In early discussions with the city, they were interested in charging a lot more than $5 to park,” he said. “Ticket sales only make up 75 percent of our expenses, so we try to keep ticket prices as low as possible because our audiences are locals. So we really fought hard against a $20, or even a $10 parking fee. I thought the $5 parking fee was a fair price.”

The timing couldn’t be any worse for the Smith Center, as this week is Broadway Week and there are eight sold-out performances of “Jesus Christ Superstar” slated to take place, Martin said.

“We do have some anxious patrons,” he said.

Despite what he said is a fair price to park, Martin said he thinks some event goers will park elsewhere in the area where parking is free when attending events at the Smith Center.

“I understand why some of our neighbors are calling me and my staff wishing the city had given them fair warning and time to evaluate parking options,” he said. “Some people may decide to Uber or maybe they’re going to take one of the shuttles from one of the downtown restaurants. Go there and have dinner first and come here after on a free shuttle. I think people are trying to figure out how they’re going to maneuver an evening at the Smith Center.”

With other parking fees tied to events in the Las Vegas Valley usually higher than $5, Adams doesn’t see the fee being a factor in whether a patron will attend a show or not, especially with most vehicles containing at least two people.

“It’s hard for me to believe that $5 event rate would keep anyone from going to a show at the Smith Center,” he said. “We make our garage available to First Friday attendees, with a completely different audience, that is probably more cost sensitive and we charge $5 and we get a couple hundred parkers there during First Friday. It’s a rate that is very reasonable. If you go to T-Mobile Arena for a Golden Knights game you pay $20 and you’re glad to get a place to park.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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