03/08/11 — Wanted: 27,000 parking spaces by April

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Wanted: 27,000 parking spaces by April

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 8, 2011 1:46 PM

In a city where finding enough parking for people attending a show at the Paramount Theatre can be a challenge, one could be forgiven for thinking it impossible to find 27,000 available spaces.

But with the 2011 Wings Over Wayne Air Show just over a month away, that's the challenge -- the "logistical nightmare," according to Councilman Jackie Warrick -- facing city officials.

Speaking to the City Council Monday, Col. Shawn Pederson, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander, said ever since he performed with the Thunderbirds in the 2002 air show and was disappointed at the turnout, he has made it his goal to find a way to improve it. This year, he told the council, his goal is to attract more than 300,000 people and to make this year's Wings Over Wayne -- scheduled for April 16-17 -- the best ever.

"We decided we wanted to go big -- that if we're going to do this, we wanted to do it right," he said. "We're putting on something between a festival and an extravaganza."

Among the attractions will be the F15-E Strike Eagle Demo team, the Thunderbirds, the Golden Knights, the Air Force's Heritage Flights and much more, including free concerts by country music stars Aaron Tippen on Saturday and Tracy Lawrence on Sunday.

"We're really, really excited about it," Pederson said. "It's going to be really, really good."

But for it all to happen, visitors will have to have someplace to park their cars.

Goldsboro police Capt. Al King, who is helping to coordinate the logistical efforts with Seymour Johnson, explained that the base will only be able to provide 20,000 parking spaces, leaving 25,000 to 27,000 more for the city to find.

"They are expecting anywhere from 140,000 to 147,000 people a day, with three people to a car," King said during the council's work session.

The problem, he explained, is that while the city could find plenty of lots that could provide 20 spaces here, 100 spaces there, the real need is for a few large lots that the base's shuttle buses can easily service and that city employees and volunteers can easily staff.

Among the options discussed during the work session were Meadow Lane Elementary and Greenwood Middle schools, the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fairgrounds, which was largely ruled out because of its distance from the base, and several fields around the city's compost facility on Arrington Bridge Road.

The problem with the latter, though, despite it being estimated to hold upwards of 10,000 vehicles is that the city has an agreement with the Center for Environmental Farming Solutions to grow and harvest a high quality fescue hay there. Councilmen also expressed concern over what condition the fields would be in if it were to rain.

But as they revisited the issue at the end of Monday's meeting, Councilman Chuck Allen said those fields are likely to be the city's best bet for dealing with the parking issue.

"I promise you, you can drive on hay. It's grass; it'll grow back," he said, adding that if necessary, the city could pay to repair any damage or to replant.

However, the council agreed that before any final decisions are made, there needs to be more discussion with base officials about how they envision all of the logistics working -- which parking lots would be filled first, how people would be routed to those lots and how the shuttle service to and from those lots would work, all issues Interim City Manager Tasha Logan was confident will be solved.

"Ideally you'd want to have everybody parking in one area," she said. "But we'll find the spaces."

Also discussed Monday was the likelihood that any additional costs incurred by the parking issue would likely be taken from the $75,000 already earmarked for the air show.

Additionally, Mayor Al King made a public appeal during the meeting to anybody or any groups that might be willing to volunteer to help with parking and other logistical issues.