Parking rates at the Memorial Coliseum will increase for the first time since 2013

Parking at the Memorial Coliseum will be more expensive this fall, but General Manager Randy Brown says higher expenses make the decision necessary. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of News-Sentinel.com)

Thanks in part to an explosion in utility costs, parking fees at the Memorial Coliseum will increase in September for the first time in five years.

The Coliseum’s Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to boost standard rates from $5 to $6. Preferred parking will increase from $8 to $10, while rates for recreational vehicles will go from $15 to $18 and VIP parking will go from $20 to $25.

“We’ve been a bargain (for parking) for years,” General Manager Randy Brown said, referring to higher fees charged by many similar venues. Although the higher rates may cause some visitors to park elsewhere or even attend fewer events, Brown said the board had little choice but to boost revenue because the Coliseum’s 2017 operating surplus of about $60,000 pales in comparison to looming increases in expenses.

Natural gas bills were about $87,500 last year but are expected to increase to $127,500 this year and $144,100 in 2019. Water and sewer bills were $60,170 last year will be about $118,700 this year and $125,5680 next year, while electric bills were $513,850 last year but will be about $594,200 this year and $654,800 in 2019 despite the addition of more-efficient lighting that has reduced consumption. Some of the increases are due to rate increases; others are a reflection of weather conditions, Brown added.

In addition, county employees are in line for a 3 percent raise next year, boosting payroll costs by $105,300. The strong economy is also making it more difficult and expensive to attract part-time employees, Brown said.

That’s a total expense increase of nearly $299,000, which will consume almost all of the additional $310,000 the increase in parking fees is expected to generate. “We’re in the volume business, and we have to be sensitive to that,” said Brown, who hopes the increases will not dramatically affect that volume.

Even before the increases take effect, however, attendance at Coliseum events is down this year compared to 2017 levels. Total attendance through July was 585,931 — a decrease of nearly 2.3 percent from last year. “It will be very difficult to end the year in the black,” Brown said while adding that business already on the books gives “reason to be optimistic for the fall.”

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