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North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center parking likely jumping from $5 to $7

Parking rates likely will increase from $5 to $7 at the North Charleston Coliseum & Performing Arts Center, an increase some say is too steep.

North Charleston City Council's Finance Committee approved the jump last week. If the full council approves it Thursday, the new rates would go into effect March 1. 

The city runs the surface parking operation, which is staffed mostly by part-time employees, Mayor Keith Summey said. But the city's cost to run the 2,200-space surface parking lot always has exceeded what the fees have brought in. 

Last year, it cost the city $800,751 to run the lot — and to ensure patrons arriving for an event can park in an orderly fashion — but it received only $695,765 in fees. 

Rob Concannon is president of the South Carolina Stingrays hockey team, which plays its home games at the Coliseum. He is opposed to the city's planned increase.

"This has been a hot topic at our office," he said.

The Stingrays play 45 games a year at the Coliseum, he said, and the organization would like parking rates for hockey games to remain at $5, he said.

"We are a family-oriented business," he added.

The city could make up for keeping rates lower for the Stingrays by charging more for concerts and other one-time events, he said.

"Concerts could pay $15 to $20," he said. "It's a very common practice."

North Charleston resident Shari Stump was tailgating in the parking lot before the Stingrays game Saturday. She has a season tickets package, which includes free parking, but she still thought the parking rate increase was bad news.

"That will reduce the number of people who come," she said. "That's kind of steep."

But Mark Perreone, who is from Summerville, thought the $2 jump was reasonable.

"It would not deter me in the slightest," he said.

Summey said the city had planned all along to gradually increase the parking rates so the operation could make money. But increases always faced resistance, he said. The city last raised the rate in 2008, when it jumped from $4 to $5.

"It should be $8 to $10 by now," Summey said. 

City Councilman Ron Brinson said he doesn't think the parking operation ever broke even, and he's also unsure whether the latest increase is enough to to do that.

"What we should take from this," Brinson said, "is that we shouldn't wait so long to raise it."

City Councilman Bob King was the only council member to vote against the increase at the committee meeting.

"Raising it to $7 is kind of like gouging people," he said.

But Summey disagreed and noted he was in downtown Charleston recently and spent much more than that to park for only two hours, he said.

Summey also said the city used to allow certain groups to have free parking during events, but that practice stopped about two years ago. Everybody will have to pay $7, he said. 

The city eventually plans to increase the amount of parking available for the Coliseum, Convention Center and Performing Arts Center by building a $50 million parking garage large enough for 2,000 cars. The money will come from Charleston County's accommodations tax — a tax on hotel and motel rooms — that is collected in North Charleston. 

The city soon will put out a call for proposals for companies interested in designing the garage. City officials have estimated the garage will take about two years to build.

The city's Coliseum opened its doors in 1993, and the neighboring Performing Arts Center and Convention Center opened in 1999. The facilities are located off West Montague Avenue and International Boulevard.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.

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