Parks and Recreation Director Roderick Simmons fielded criticism over parking changes from community members and athletic groups who use Memorial Stadium during a presentation at Asheville City Council’s April 9 meeting. The city’s efforts to reduce the burden of event parking in the East End, Edgehill, Hunt Hill and Oakhurst neighborhoods, said multiple commenters, had hampered their access to the athletic facility.
Simmons said his department had acted after numerous complaints from area residents about parking in and around their neighborhoods during major events. The largest impact, he said, come from the Asheville Tourists minor league baseball team, which hosts 70 games at McCormick Field from April-August that draw 2,000-3,000 people each.
To contain the impacts of Tourists staff and volunteers parking on these neighborhoods during game days, Simmons explained, the city designated parking areas for them at Mountainside Park and Memorial Stadium. Those areas are now barricaded 24 hours ahead of scheduled games — for up to seven consecutive games — and no public parking is allowed. Pedestrian access to these areas remains open.
Simmons noted that the change has displaced as many as seven organized athletic groups from Memorial Stadium due to parking availability but does not limit use of or restrict access to the field. He said those groups have been accommodated through relocation to UNC Asheville and other area fields.
While reports and presentations to Council are usually not open for public comment, Mayor Esther Manheimer chose to suspend the rule for the parking issue.
“This is under presentation because there is no Council action. It is not typically the role of council to dip into Parks and Rec’s weeds — no pun intended — but we have been lately,” Manheimer said. “We don’t normally take speakers during presentations but it’s a little disjointed to wait until the end of the council meeting to have you speak on this item.”
One of the speakers, Ann Sitler, who sits on the board of directors for the nonprofit Asheville Ultimate Club, said that her organization had been adversely impacted by the move.
“We have been asked for almost half of our nights to be canceled or moved to other locations if possible. We have not been given solutions for every single night,” Sitler explained. “And while I am a big supporter of the Asheville Tourists, I love going to the games, I just don’t feel that it’s right to get rid of our space.”
“What I’ve seen happen is that they’re limiting use of the field, whether they admit to it or not,” added Asheville resident Stirling Barlow. “My son’s lacrosse league has not been able to go up there; the men’s lacrosse league hasn’t been able to have their season up there. They said they were limiting use of the field to prevent cars from being damaged, and now that the cars are pulled back, I don’t understand why we can’t have full use of the facilities.”
Other speakers took issue with Tourists staff and volunteers straying from the asphalt surrounding Memorial Stadium to park on the field surface itself, which underwent minor renovations in 2017. Simmons confirmed that Parks and Recreation staff had allowed this parking, adding that the facility was scheduled for major upgrades next spring.
“Please don’t park cars on the only place we can play our sports,” said Seth Gleason of the Asheville Ultimate Club. “You can park a car on a gravel lot, but you can’t play ultimate and soccer on a gravel lot.”
Simmons said that he plans to revise the parking arrangement and continue gathering feedback from community members. A neighborhood association meeting, hosted by the East End and Valley Street Neighborhood Association and including both Asheville city representatives and Asheville soccer group members, will be held on Thursday, April 11 in the Fellowship Hall at St. James AME Church at 6 p.m. to discuss the changes.