A new partnership between the Reading Parking Authority and Berks Jazz Fest will help keep the festival downtown.
“The Berks Jazz Fest has the option of moving shows from the Santander Performing Arts Center to the Scottish Rite Cathedral in West Reading,” festival chief executive John Ernesto said on Wednesday, “but is committed to presenting shows at the center -City of Reading.”
This year, the Jazz Fest will be held from April 1 to 10.
The annual music festival should be a positive experience for attendees, Ernesto said. However, he noted, traffic jams and parking issues can affect his overall enjoyment if not properly coordinated by all key players.
For help with parking issues, festival organizers turned to RPA.
The parking authority will provide staff at city garages to answer questions, directions and any parking issues that may arise, the authority’s executive director Nathan Matz said Wednesday.
Additionally, he said, RPA on Wednesday pledged to become the third largest sponsor of the 31st music festival.
“Reading Parking Authority is delighted to announce a new level to our existing partnership with festival coordinator Berks Arts,” said Matz, noting that he looks forward to working with festival organizers and volunteers at the event. future.
Concerns about downtown parking issues and the potential theft of Jazz Fest were brought to City Council on Monday by Michael Ehlerman, chairman of the Berks County Convention Center Authority, and Mike Fiucci, board member of the authority of the convention center.
The problems came to a head in February after students and others complained they were charged $12 per vehicle for parking during the Berks Conference basketball championship game between Reading Catholic High Schools and Berks at Santander Arena.
“We had tickets, $8 for adults and $5 for students, and 60% of our attendees were high school students, not just from Reading High but from other schools around the county,” Fiucci said.
The $12 parking fee seemed excessively high compared to ticket prices, he said.
“We have a lot of people complaining, and I think that’s hurting our attendance,” he said. “So when it hurts our attendance, it’s going to hurt the amusement tax that we give back to the city, which before COVID was almost half a million dollars.”
Ehlerman said those who parked at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel garage during a recent free event at the arena were charged $25 per vehicle, prompting a written complaint from the show’s sponsor.
The rates are set by the parking authority.
The rates charged at the events mentioned to the council are standard and are posted along with other parking rates on the authority’s website, Matz said.
“Our relationship with the convention center authority is stronger than ever,” he said, “although it is still ongoing.”
Ehlerman said he also received complaints from spectators unhappy with the time it takes to exit garages after arena events, particularly hockey games.
After a recent hockey game that drew 3,800 fans, vehicles were still coming out more than an hour after the game ended, he said.
At a meeting in January, Matz told the city council that the authority was studying a new system that would make it easier and faster to enter and exit parking lots.
Fiucci raised concerns that Berks Jazz Fest, which draws thousands of people, might move its concerts from downtown to suburban areas with free parking.
Ernesto said festival organizers are working with the parking authority and have had productive meetings with Matz.
“All downtown partners must work together to create a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.
Ernesto said the parking authority sponsorship will more than cover the $20 per volunteer parking voucher, per event, that the parking authority will charge Jazz Fest.
The charge, of about $25,000, represents a 90% increase from previous years, he said.
“The parking authority is committed to making visitors to the city feel welcome and valued,” Matz said. “As the event’s third largest sponsor, we will continue to support downtown arts.”
Justin Heimbecker, executive director of Berks Arts, which coordinates the music festival, said he was thrilled when he learned of Matz’s announcement.
“It’s a game-changer,” Heimbecker said. “It allows us to continue our model. Our ticket prices will not be impacted in terms of offsetting the cost of parking passes. »
One of Jazz Fest’s missions is to provide affordable events that will draw people downtown for multiple days and concerts, Heimbecker said. Great support from volunteers, local businesses, the community and key players such as the parking authority help keep ticket prices low.
Events are planned at the Miller Center on the Reading Area Community College campus, the Santander Performing Arts Center on North Sixth Street, the DoubleTree and other venues downtown.
Ehlerman said the convention center authority, arena and performing arts center are still recovering from financial losses suffered during the height of the pandemic.
A $3 million grant from the U.S. City Bailout Act helped significantly, he said, but ticket revenue was down about $22,000, or 19%, from to pre-pandemic figures.
During that time, he said, entertainment tax revenue for the city increased by about $100,000, or 88%.
Councilwoman Donna Reed asked the city’s legal team to research the council’s ability, if any, to set parking rates.
Council Chairman Jeffrey Waltman said he plans to meet with Mayor Eddie Moran, representatives from the parking and convention center authorities and others to discuss parking issues raised at the council meeting.
Since one of the mayor’s duties is to appoint members of authority, Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said, it’s important that he be included and engaged in all discussions.
“Endangering our main entertainment venues is simply not acceptable,” she said.