I grew up a short walk from the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. I cherish memories of attending Kitchener Rangers hockey games there.

I now live an even shorter walk from what we now simply call The Aud. When we bought our home, the proximity of this complex was an attraction. I look forward to going to hockey games with my wife and kids. We haven’t been to many over the past five years because they have been hard to get.

I support the expansion of the Auditorium because there’s a definite demand for it. I’m hoping it’ll help my kids to have the same cherished memories I have. I also hope that the additional seats will help the Dom Cardillo Arena be used more often for events such as the upcoming the Hedley or Simple Plan concerts and Holiday on Ice show. More events is good on many levels for people living in Kitchener and even throughout Waterloo Region.

On Monday night, I will appear before City Council though to recommend they not support the motion presented to them (see p. 5 of 8)–at least not as is. What follows is a part one of why I make this recommendation. If you would like to attend in support that would be great. And if you would like to speak, you can still do so.

We’re not ready to move ahead with expansion–not yet

But we’re not ready to move ahead with expansion. Not yet anyhow. Not until we have a plan in place to address the overwhelming number one concern of residents who attended the neighbourhood meeting about the expansion. Where will they park?

Given the parking chaos (ex. parking on grass at Knollwood Park/Shepherd School for example) and concerns that occurred after the 2008 expansion (such as emergency vehicles being hindered on surrounding residential streets), before City Council on Monday night passes a motion to proceed with the proposal, they should have an answer to that question. At bare minimum, the motion should be amended so that they are presented with some concrete answers before construction begins and an idea what other solutions are being pursued and their status.

Positive steps to address parking

When I heard that Council’s Community and Infrastructure Services Committee endorsed the proposal to expand the auditorium I was concerned because the article in the Record did not mention parking. I was pleased to learn through the news release issued by the city that the proposal by the Rangers to have a shuttle to the Charles & Benton parking garage had been firmed up and is now described as a commitment. I was also pleased to see that the shuttle would connect to the Grand River Transit terminal downtown. I also liked learning that the Rangers have budgeted for the next two years for a shuttle. I am comfortable we will see it.

I then located the staff report to the committee used to make their decision. I was interested in how the public’s concern about parking had been addressed as a result of the consultation. I was happy to see that a parking study had been commissioned to, according to the study, “to address the increase in traffic and parking demand requirements related to the proposed expansion.”

Another positive step is that the motion before council directs “staff, in partnership with the KRHC (Kitchener Rangers Hockey Club) review the possibility of  paid parking at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex, including cost sharing.”

Unfortunately, there are serious problems with each of these positive steps upon closer examination.

Will people use the shuttle?

Carrie DeBrone of the Kitchener Citizen asked me that question at the consultation when I indicated it was a positive measure to address the parking and traffic concerns she was repeatedly hearing. It stumped me a bit because as much as I hate to admit it, the answer is likely no unless there are incentives or disincentives to make it attractive.

At the consultation, the Rangers floated the idea of paid parking that would be free for carpooling. Both could be part of getting people to use the shuttle or share rides. On the other hand, they could push more parking to the streets so I am glad that it is being reviewed before being implemented.

An option to consider is to look at the defined parking lots on either side of the building and make them paid parking with rates that reflect the premium nature of these spots. These spaces could also be offered free or at a substantial discount to vehicles with 4 or more people in them.

But the wording of the motion concerns me. “Review the possibility” may mean that paid parking is only being discussed and may never happen. And the absence of any reference to “car pooling” could indicate that it is no longer part of the mix.

I suggest that incentives need to be offered to get more people to use public transit or to park downtown. The Kitchener Downtown Business Improvement Area has been mentioned as being interested in a promotion to attract these spectators to grab food or drink. But as with paid parking, it is not yet a solution we can count on–and it may not work without the disincentive of paid parking.

Another area of concern regarding the shuttle is whether it will exist for other events at the Auditorium. It should but has the city budgeted for it? Or would the promoters be required to pay for it? The shuttle should be known as a way to get to the Auditorium–not just a way to get to Rangers games. We should know if it will be before moving forward.

We should also know if there are incentives and disincentives in place for the shuttle to even be a success for Rangers games before construction begins.

Public transit is the long term solution

With an LRT station scheduled to be at Ottawa and Charles in 2017 and its capacity to quickly move large groups of people, light rail is the long term solution for getting people to and from the Auditorium. Unfortunately in a best case scenario, that solution is five years away.

But we can start to shape public behaviour to adopt it now. There should be a dedicated shuttle from the iExpress stop currently at Ottawa and Charles to and from the Auditorium. Or possibly the confirmed shuttle from downtown could also pick up people there.

Another incentive for transit use is that Rangers ticket holders get a free ride on GRT for three hours before the game until service ends.

If the Memorial Auditorium is to be the premier spectator arena in the region for at least the next 15 years, we need to be serious about making public transit attractive and know we have a plan in place before work begins on an expansion that we know will otherwise mean more cars–and most likely more illegally parked cars, congested streets that hinder emergency vehicle access and additional problems moving traffic due to more vehicles.

Don’t rely on the parking study to support expansion

I have so much to say about the parking study that it requires its own post. For now, I’ll say that it contains errors and poor assumptions that mean it should not be relied upon to support expansion without knowing how the additional spectators will get to the Auditorium–and where they will park if they drive there.

2 thoughts on “Auditorium Expansion: Where will they park?

  1. James I further agree with John Gazzola’s comment in today’s paper; that the users need to ante up more dollars for these costs. More user pay less the general the tax payer. I’m not happy with the current debt load the City is carrying.

  2. Thanks for your comment Denis.

    I support the financial arrangements between the Rangers and the City. While I understand the concern about debt levels, I agree 100% with Mayor Zehr that it is more a problem of perception than a real concern given that the Rangers have such a successful operation and good record paying previous debts. The additional debt will make it more difficult to finance another big project in the short term but I think the chances of wanting to do so are slim even without the Rangers loan.

    But is $9.6 million dollars enough? I’m not sure if it reflects the full cost of the project. Are there additional costs required to effectively address the parking issue? Maybe that’s where some form of payment by users comes in such as some form or paid parking or creating more spaces by, for example, removing Centennial Stadium.

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