Asheville City Council

Would you like to be able to park in downtown Asheville for a dime a day? That’s the rate proposed for 1999 Honda Hoot participants, and Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick thinks it’s way too cheap.

“They’re going to be paying a dime a day?” she asked incredulously, after hearing a city-staff report during Council’s June 1 work session. “I have a problem with that,” declared Sitnick, citing concerns about fairness to city residents and other visitors who may soon be paying 75 cents per hour to park in metered spaces downtown (the meters now charge 25 cents per hour). “I’ll have to explain to [other meter feeders] why they have pay 75 cents, when Honda Hoot [participants] will pay 10 cents a day.”

City Finance Director Bill Schaeffer explained that Hoot organizers had already sent out brochures and registration information mentioning the proposal worked out with staff: Preregistered Hooters will pay 50 cents for a five-day parking pass allowing them to use downtown metered spaces and designated upper levels of the Civic Center parking deck; other event participants can purchase a pass for $5. All pass holders must display temporary parking stickers on their motorcycles. “We’ll make money from this situation,” promised Schaeffer. Last year, there were about 3,000 preregistered Honda Hoot participants, plus about 1,000 latecomers.

But Council members O.T. Tomes and Chuck Cloninger pointed out that the city is setting a precedent with the cheap deal: “What we’re doing for the Honda Hoot, we’d better be prepared to offer … to every [special] event,” observed Cloninger. He suggested charging preregistered Hooters $5 for a 5-day pass, and latecomers$10.

But Sitnick, undeterred, remarked that Hoot organizers should never have sent information about the proposed 50-cent pass to potential participants, before Council had approved it. “Why would [they] assume … we would go for this?” asked Sitnick, saying she couldn’t vote for the proposal.

Last year, city staff pointed out, Honda Hoot organizers approached City Council, asking for a better deal on parking, as well as some Civic Center charges.

Sitnick noted, however, that Council members have also heard complaints from downtown businesses and residents: During portions of the annual summer event, motorcyclists take over many of downtown’s 700 metered spaces, particularly the ones on Haywood Street. “I’m not going to go to the citizens of Ashevillle and tell them they have to subsidize this,” Sitnick declared.

Vice Mayor Ed Hay reminded Sitnick that the Hoot has “a tremendous [economic] impact” on Asheville. “It’s not something we should take lightly,” he cautioned.

Council member Earl Cobb suggested a compromise: Charge $3 for preregistered Hooters, $5 for latecomers, and re-evaluate the fees next year.

City Manager Jim Westbrook noted that Honda Hoot participants traditionally pay the 50-cent rate in other cities. [Last year, Hoot organizers threatened to move the event to another city, if Asheville couldn’t offer better cooperation on event-related charges].

But Sitnick was adamant: “I have trouble reconciling different rules for different people. … If we cannot somehow justify this … we will take heat [from citizens]. … I’m willing to consider $3 and $5, just not 50 cents.”

Staff indicated that they will report back to Council on the issue as soon as possible.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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