Soccer parents riled up by idea to let Aggie fans use Veterans Park lots on Saturdays

From the Eagle

Published: December 14, 2014

By: Emily Wilkins

Parents of soccer players in College Station are upset over the possibility of Veterans Park becoming the new park-and-ride shuttle destination during A&M football home games, an option floated after Post Oak Mall officials said their parking lot no longer could be used.

While soccer players were able to use Veterans Park during seven Saturdays last fall, they could be limited to as few as five Saturdays this fall. Depending on how three non-conference home football games are scheduled, however, the available number of Saturdays could rise to eight, according to J.D. Wood, tourism manager for College Station Parks and Recreation Department.

The City Council, which would have final say on any agreement that's developed, is not expected to discuss it until its April 23 meeting and likely won't vote until May, according to city officials.

But a letter sent to city officials and council members Tuesday from the nine board members of the Brazos Valley Youth Soccer Association prompted dozens of emails being sent to administrators and the council, each asking them to reject the agreement.

"While the city has proposed moving the (BVYSA) games to weeknights, this is a major change in programming that will create many challenges, including family scheduling issues, increased volunteer demands, referee availability, and practice space availability," the letter reads.

"Although we understand the economic boom that Aggie games bring to our community, the bond issues approved by the citizens of College Station were for parks, not parking lots."

Bill Hart, president of the soccer association, said he was "optimistic" that a resolution would be reached and meetings with the city were ongoing. He said he sent the letter out to ensure that parents knew about the proposed agreement.

John Melvin, whose children play soccer with the College Station Soccer Club, said no games on Saturdays means extra weekday games, which conflicts with other activities his children are involved in. For the games to be moved because of A&M is inconvenient for families, he said.

"Veterans Park is there for us to use as a park," he said. "It's not there for A&M to park cars."

David Schmitz, director of Parks and Recreation for College Station, said he was shocked by the letter, given the nine meetings city staffers have had with BVYSA board members since late January about the park-and-ride possibly moving to Veterans Park. During two of those meetings, Schmitz and other staffers sat down with all or nearly all board members to discuss the scheduling. Schmitz said he thought all parties came to an agreement, which included expanding the season by multiple weeks.

"It's a compromise. We didn't get everything we would have liked and they didn't get everything they would have liked," Schmitz said. "Apparently, we've got more work to do and we're willing to get back to the drawing board."

In a response letter to the BVYSA, City Manager Kelly Templin said because park-and-ride reduces traffic on game day by thousands of cars, the issue was one of public safety. Too, additional College Station fields and facilities are available that can accommodate soccer games and practices, he said.

"If there's no adequate parking, several hundred cars will park in neighborhoods," Templin said. Streets lined with cars, especially where parking is illegal, creates visibility issues and could block the way for emergency vehicles.

Councilman John Nichols, who helped organize the College Station Soccer Club in the 1970s, said he heard from 40 to 50 residents the day after the BVYSA letter was sent to council members.

"This has not come to council. We have taken no stand on it," he said. "I think there are good intentions on both sides and we can find some moderate accommodation to deal with the basic needs of both demands here."

Councilman James Benham said he had reached out to Post Oak Mall management to ask it to consider picking up the park-and-ride again. Post Oak Mall had signed contracts to host the event since 2004, and was compensated $2,000 per game for the last several years, said Peter Lange, executive director for A&M transportation services.

Last December, Lange said, he received an email from Post Oak Mall manager Paul Loy indicating fans coming to games took up more than half of their 4,500-spot parking lot and were causing tension with department stores.

"We felt we weren't serving people we really needed to and that was the folks who were shopping here," Loy said Wednesday. "If we had the ability to quarantine off areas of the parking lot that were lesser used, we could work with the shuttle service. It's not that easy."

Of the alternatives A&M Transportation Services has looked into, Veterans Park's 1,600 parking spaces have proven to be the best option in terms of space, location and ability for the shuttle to move without getting caught in traffic, Lange said.

"When you start looking around town, there are not that many places with that many parking spaces," Lange said, noting he had spoken to one church who said the arrangement would be inconvenient for them.

"We're still kind of looking," he said.