Paid parking at U of A's Saville Centre raises ire of local sports groups

The University of Alberta is charging for parking in some stalls at the Saville Centre, and partnering sports groups are worried the added cost will drive people away from the facility.

Pilot project at South Campus will be used until April 2022

The Saville Centre, located at the University of Alberta's south campus, now has paid parking in 174 stalls. (Wallis Snowdon/CBC Edmonton )

The University of Alberta has started charging for parking in some stalls at the Saville Centre, but some sports groups are worried the added cost will drive people away from the facility.

At the start of October, the U of A introduced a pilot program converting 174 stalls into paid parking at the Saville Community Sports Centre and Foote Field at South Campus. The university called it a cost recovery effort to ensure it could still offer about 600 free parking stalls at this site.

But the GO Community Centre, a charitable non-profit developed through partnerships with local sports groups, said the decision hurts families and patrons who use the Saville Centre.

"Taking away free accessible parking is just going to cause a further burden for all families having to pay to bring their children to our facilities," said Lydia Migus, GO Community Centre president

The GO Community Centre (GCC) is the operating body of the gymnastics, volleyball and basketball facilities in the Saville Centre.

Migus said the U of A has brought up the idea of paid parking a few times over the years. Earlier this year, Migus said the GCC's response to the idea was to see if it could work with the university to amicably find an alternative to recover costs while still maintaining free parking.

But she said the university moved ahead with the pilot anyway. Migus was shocked to see parking meters being put up in the parking lot this summer.

The promise of free parking was an essential characteristic that enticed the GCC to form and work with the U of A to develop the Saville Centre, Migus said. The GCC says the decision contradicts its facility partnership agreement, which states the university would provide free parking to the GO Centre on an ongoing basis.

The GCC sent a letter to university administration on Sept. 29 saying if that if the U of A moves forward with the project, the GCC will consider it a default under their agreement. Migus said the GCC has not yet received a response.

But the U of A has said the roughly 600 free parking stalls at the centre meets those requirements.

"For a number of months, the university has actively engaged with the Go Community Centre to explore options that would allow for the continued maintenance of the parking facilities and feels that this pilot is consistent with the terms of the GO Centre Venture Agreement," said Andrew Sharman, U of A vice-president of facilities and operations. 

The paid parking pilot project is expected to run until April 30, 2022, and the university has said it won't generate any profit for the institution, instead offsetting the costs of parking operations like snow removal, maintenance and enforcement.

Jay Ouellette, president of Edmonton Youth Basketball Association, said with the number of sports the Saville Centre and neighbouring Foote Field host — including football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, tennis and curling — the parking space available has already often been insufficient.

"There's already poor access. That building is oversubscribed on a regular basis," Ouellette said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Tuesday. 

Even though Edmonton's athletics community is seeing less participation due to COVID-19 this year, groups also haven't been able to book school gymnasiums this fall due to precautions because of the pandemic. That has created a bigger reliance on the Saville Centre's facilities, Ouellette said.

He added a lot of kids in the Edmonton Youth Basketball Association come from low-income families who already find extracurricular activities during the pandemic difficult to afford, making it a tough time to introduce the measure.

Ouellette said he hopes the university will reconsider the pilot program. For several years, the recreational basketball league Ouellette played in, along with other local sports leagues, paid an annual fee to help fund the GO Centre. He said he thinks the leagues along with centre's donors would be upset at this decision to introduce paid parking, going against the original spirit of the facility.

"That's the part that I think screams foul to everybody," Ouellette said. "Somebody else helps produce that facility for you with community spirit and that's what everybody's angry about."