Astros Game Parking Rates Soar

"Only $40 bucks from here to MMP? ~ What a deal! What deal! What a deal!"

“Only $40 bucks from here to MMP? ~ What a great deal!”

 

Astros Game Parking Rates Soar

Prices for parking on Opening Day ranged from a low $20 to a high of $60. Depending upon where you sat in MMP, where you bought your game ticket, and where you chose to park your car, you could have paid more for your car’s space than you did for your own seat at the game. We know. Price gouging is always present for parking downtown early in the season – or when the Astros play well – or when they are up against teams like the Royals, Yankees, or Red Sox, but, …. this is a not a problem tied to a complex cause, so much, as it is a challenge to the task of finding a solution that is both fair to all – and acceptable to those of us fan-consumers who are picking up the present heavy parking tab for supporting the team by driving downtown to the Minute Maid Park area.

We are about to describe a problem that is much easier to state than it is to untangle with a solution that comes easily to mind. No clue here on that score. I just know there needs to be one by the people calling the shots here – whomever they may be beyond the Astros.

Genesis of the Parking Problem

The problem started during the planning stages of moving the Astros from the Astrodome to the old Union Station site downtown in the late 1990s. The McLane ownership of the club had no plan for buying any of the then decrepit, empty, and cheap property around the new ballpark site for the sake of protecting themselves or the public from future use by those with other business aims and temporary tastes for price gouging.

As I recall, the building of the ballpark at the corner of Texas and Crawford, just north of the beautiful 19th century Annunciation Catholic Church, was somehow supposed to be the elixir that would simply attract independent interests that would somehow improve the neighborhood with restaurants, nightspots, and residential development that would all come together as a major boost rejuvenating the east side of downtown.

That sort of happened. Sort of. But as I recall from an undergraduate economics class I audited at UH a thousand years ago, something else happened that was much stronger. A UH professor, whose thoughts were easier to recall than his name is now, described it this way:

“To maximize the profitability of the ‘supply-and-demand’ chain that is essential to the success of any business plan, the operator must work to maximize his control of both.”

In the world of MLB, a ball club starts with pretty much 100% of the big league baseball supply that aims to meet the local demand for same. If the public believes their local club has a real chance of winning, if the fans can reach the games, if they can enjoy their time at the ballpark, if they afford to come often, and also not be forced to go to a lot of trouble or extra expense to get there, things should work out fine. – Leave any of those factors out of the picture, however, and that same missing essential part becomes a barrier which blocks the club’s access to their fan base demand. Unresolved over time, that negative becomes either the death knell for the ballpark – or the reason for low attendance that drives the owners to relocate the franchise to another city.

The Brooklyn Dodgers are the best example of what happens when a core of great fans no longer find it convenient or affordable to follow their team.

Today people seem only to remember that the Dodgers abandoned the Brooklyn after the 1957 season. The truth is that Brooklyn fan actually started abandoning Brooklyn much earlier. Caught up in the the Post World War II move to the suburbs, thousands of decades-old fans already had moved to new homes in New Jersey, and elsewhere, and they were continuing to do so, even in 1955, the year the Brooklyn Dodgers won their only World Series.

Check what I’m saying carefully. I said the Brooklyn fans were abandoning Brooklyn. Those fans who moved were not abandoning the Dodgers. That same now affordable car that served as their ark to suburban flight also could still serve as their way to night and weekend games at Ebbets Field, except for one problem. Ebbets Field only had room for 200 parked car. There wasn’t even any open space to build new parking space in the ballpark area and any parking that could be found was only available at price-gouging prices. In the end, the Dodgers would have no good choice, but to leave. When reaching the game became too expensive and bothersome to the suburban Dodger fans, the demand for tickets lost out to the fan fears of inconvenience and expense.

When the St. Louis Cardinals made their 21st century move from Busch Stadium II to the new Busch Stadium III, they did the smart thing. They bought first-usage-rights options, as I understand it, on just about every property within a fairly good short mileage or block radius of their new ballpark. That power to control development has allowed the Cardinals to shape the territory around the new ballpark in the best interests of their club – and that “best interest” qualifier extends to keeping the fans involved, engaged by their nearby retail choices, and protected from price gouging by fly-by-night independent parking lots.

The Enron Field to Minute Maid Park Situation

When the Astros opened for business downtown in 2000, the area was surrounded by blight. The old abandoned Ben Milam Hotel stood out front of Union Station on Crawford for years, sort of like a symbol that Houston rats also need a place to live, even if they only attend ballgames as unwanted guests. – They must have been hot dog fans too. The skinny ones we saw loping down Crawford late in the year 2000 were looking pretty plump over at “The Asbestos Inn” (Ben Milam) by 2009. – Now the Ben Milam is gone, elegantly replaced by the beautiful mid-rise residential property that is now in the early stages of opening to people who can afford the lifestyle. – No word on where the rats moved. They rarely, if ever, leave forwarding address cards.

In the general, the downtown ballpark has definitely been a catalyst for real estate improvement in the immediate area. And in spite of Houston’s oil economy problems, its now more diverse economy as not stopped the construction of a lot more residential and commercial projects on the northeast side of downtown. Construction also has made it easier for those who own open parking lots to charge outrageous prices. With far fewer spaces than we had in 2000, it’s simply become a lot easier for the greater demand to drive price on those fewer spaces sky-high.

Unfortunately, that makes Houston 2016 far more like Brooklyn 1957 than it does St. Louis 21st century, with only one difference. – We Houstonians didn’t move far away from our ball club. We have always lived faraway from everything we want to do. We’re Houstonians. And that’s what we do. – But here’s where we come back to our similarity to the suburban Brooklyn Dodger fans.

Again, we’re Houstonians. We drive cars everywhere. All the time. – As long as we can get there in the 25-50 mile one-way home-to-ballpark drive, and not be gouged for parking, or too many other things, we will continue to attend Astros games at MMP.

Important to Remember

As Houstonians, we are more frugal than you might expect. Even those Houstonians who have deep pockets share a common biological/psychological anomaly with the rest of us. – If a Houstonian has deep pockets – or not, he or she also commonly is afflicted with short arms – when it comes to reaching for a wallet or purse in the face of what appears to be extortion. In effect, we Houstonians will not put up with a price gouge for parking – for long – without turning on a dime to reprogram our minds about our current needs for this ancient demand for live baseball.

Besides, you can see the games better at home on big screen HD television – and you never have to miss a play. You can stop the game in its tracks whenever you need to hit the fridge – there is no blaring loudspeaker music – no pretty girls trying to shoot you in the head with a tee shirt – no crammed in little seat with no leg room – nobody passing in front of you and the screen in the middle of a big play – cheaper hot dogs that taste just as good as the ballpark dogs are plentiful – and no special parking fees are required for your car that weren’t already built into your taxes and HOA annual tab.

The Mayor Suggests

http://www.chron.com/sports/article/Frustrations-about-Astros-parking-reaches-the-7249883.php

Mayor Turner suggests we consider parking in remote lots and taking the train to town. And I guess walking or taking a cab to the ballpark from Main Street.

His Honor means well, I’m sure, but he needs to remember. We are Houstonians. We don’t do public transportation, especially if it’s complicated, risky, or something you have to repeat when the game is over. What happens when a game goes past midnight – Are we supposed to just walk back to Main Street and wait on a train (if they are still running) to take us back to a remote lot by 1-2 AM? – Not for me, thank you. Life’s a big enough crap shoot, as it is. And this Houstonian chooses to do his part in service to survival by trying not to be “in the wrong place at the wrong time” whenever possible.

The Day is Coming

Under the present circumstances of growth, it seems that we are on the way in Houston to a time in which all of the present open parking lots of practical service to Minute Maid Park fans are lost to brick and mortar development. When that happens, we will more closely resemble the Brooklyn 1957 picture, even more eerily. (a few hundred spaces controlled by the club; most of the fans living 25-50 miles away.) – What happens then? It’s too late to do what the Cardinals did in St. Louis during the first decade of the 21st century.

The Seattle Solution for Downtown Venue NFL Seahawks Games

Aren't Downtown Stadiums Grand?

Aren’t Downtown Stadiums Grand?

What happens then?

What happens when we reach the maximum MLB price gouge point in Houston? Does “The Seattle Solution” of  “Let ‘Em Rip – and We’ll Just Play for Whomever Can Still Afford Us” look like an answer for MLB Houston whenever that peak price time comes? And it is coming!’

As was stated here earlier, we don’t see a solution that beats staying home and watching the games a whole lot easier and better at home on television. And we are really clear on this point: The absence of affordable parking downtown is going to be an issue for the average long-commute fan if the Astros remain a contending club on a regular basis. Maybe it will never be as bad as an eight-home-date regular season NFL scenario has come to be in Seattle, but it will be bad enough for us to feel it in our Houston baseball wallets. And we got a bad preview taste of that condition on Opening Day.

____________________

eagle-0rangeBill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

https://bill37mccurdy.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to “Astros Game Parking Rates Soar”

  1. Matt Rejmaniak Says:

    Good article Bill, and I’ve noticed the same situation. It seems the parking prices have gone up and the amount of available parking has gone down, driven in part by the development you’ve talked about. Ever since the team moved downtown I’ve been buying parking passes for Lot C. At $15 it beats most of the alternatives I can find. Also on Sundays it is free to park at any regular city meter — so I love attending the Sunday games for that reason.

  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I just bask in the good old days of the suburban Astrodome where the HSA controlled their own parking and you could come early and park in the Early Bird Lot for $1 – yes, $1. And if your car wouldn’t start when you got back, there was Astrodome security that had jumper cables and other emergency aid. You didn’t have to trust your life to some swarthy immigrant in a wife-beater.

    All the folks back then who were extolling the joy of a downtown stadium, I will just be like Nelson (note: Simpsons reference) who will point and yell “HA-HA!”. You wanted your downtown stadium and you got it . Bend over and enjoy that $50 parking.

    I consider myself a Texan and, in that vein, there are three things I expect not to be charged for in life – a public toilet, a refill of my drink and a place to park my horse, even if it is an air-conditioned metal horse. Only Yankees and thieves charge you for those.

    No matter what it costs to get ROOT Sports, it’s a far better deal to pay for that than to hand over $60 bucks a night just to park your metal horse for a few hours. Plus you get Brownie telling you everything you need to know. Sounds like a bargain to me.

  3. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Parking a car or for that matter driving a car in Seattle is a nightmare. The few times I go to Seattle these days I almost always take the bus. The bus is stuck in the same traffic that a car is, but at least I can read a book or surf the web on my phone rather than stare at the bumper of the car in front of me

    You say Houstonians don’t do public transportation. Times change though. Public transportation is the only solution that makes any sense. Pouring more and more concrete for more and more cars to burn more and more fossil fuels is simply not sustainable.

    • Bob Hulsey Says:

      The reason public transportation is largely shunned in Texas is because it is steaming/broiling hot six months out of the year and if you are dressing in business attire and have to be let out at the terminal and *walk* several blocks to your office, you’ll be a sweaty, stinking mess by the time you arrive. There’s no reason public transportation can’t be part of the solution but it is not the Holy Grail environmentalists want you to believe, plus it exposes you to criminal elements while riding/walking to your destination.

  4. gregclucas Says:

    Parking is a problem only for those who attend a few games and don’t know the tricks and/or locations to get better deals and/or access. I also suspect if the Astros don’t start looking like the team many fans expected off of last year, the prices will be going down with fewer in attendance. You just can’t compare 30 or 40 years ago to the present. Its not the same anywhere…not just in Houston.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Greg – The laws governing “supply and demand” are ageless. As is the corollary to that law, what we do not learn from, we are destined to repeat. Houston 2016 is not the identical situation or culture that was Brooklyn 1957, but the shrinkage in game attendance by fans traveling from afar due to a serious absence of affordable parking is definitely measurable and comparable as a predictor of what may happen here if all the open space around MMP is replaced by new construction.

      I’d like to think what we are seeing now on the obvious lots near MMP is just a bigger splash of what happens when Opening Day high hopes collide with greed and novice personal parking seekers, but I take no solace in the possibility that cheap parking will once again be available, if the present Astros club lays an egg, If that happen, it’s not a solution, but simply another confirmation of the supply and demand link:

      In MLB Houston,

      1) When the Astros stink, the demand for tickets decreases;
      2) When the demand for tickets decreases, the supply of fans looking for tickets also shrinks radically;
      3) “Cheaper” parking again exists for all who still care to watch in person.

      When that happens, it is not a solution to the problem. The issue will surface again, if a light-outs great Astros team ever returns.

      People seem to forget one of the big reasons the Astrodome was built where it was. Because R.E. “Bob” Smith, the franchise started with enough land to control all the parking spaces they ever would need for a winning team. Then Mr. McLane pulled a “Bud Adams” on us, obliquely threatening to leave town if Houston or Harris County didn’t build him a new baseball home downtown.

      We caved, and the Astros got their downtown ballpark. And the whole thing flew like crazy by referendum approval – with no long range plan in place for the future of the Astrodome – and with no plan at all for the problems of parking that were bound to come over time with very little protected parking downtown, even then.

      Now these brushed aside “details” are coming home to bite us on the very spot of our anatomy we like to rest upon. What a deal!

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