By THOMAS OTT
The Plain Dealer
Organizers of the Cleveland International Film Festival hope the buzz at this year’s run will be about the quality of the films, not how hard it is to find parking.
The loss of parking to the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland, Inner Belt Bridge construction and a new convention center has put the squeeze on motorists in the heart of downtown.
Spaces are still available for those who frequent or work around Public Square; it just depends on how much they are willing to pay or how far they are willing to walk.
The 4,000 spots at Tower City Center are ample at night and on weekends but come at a premium from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, said Lisa Kreiger, general manager of the retail complex.
Tower City has hosted the film festival for 22 years, a period that saw overall turnout grow to a record 85,000 in 2012. Management has waived parking fees for those who attend.
This year’s expanded festival will run for 12 days, starting April 3, with showings from 9 a.m. until at least midnight. During that stretch, the Cleveland Indians will play their typically sold-out season opener and a four-game series against the New York Yankees.
Representatives of the film festival, the mall and other groups began meeting this month to discuss parking arrangements. Strategies for accommodating the crowds include intensifying promotion of bus and rail transportation that uses Tower City as a regional hub.
“The film festival is critical to all of us in downtown Cleveland,” Kreiger said. “Everybody is trying to work together and come up with solutions.”
Patrick Shepherd, associate director of the film festival, said parking is an issue every year. “We’re being very proactive about it, so I’m not worried,” he said.
Downtown parking took a hit when the city sold the Gateway North garage to the casino, which opened May 14 on Public Square.
Motorists can still park in the garage if they want to pay a daytime rate of $15 and higher amounts on weekends. Gamblers park free if they play at least a half-hour and meet certain wagering requirements — for example, $75 on slots.
The Horseshoe also leases a lot near the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel. Parking there costs $12, with a $2 discount if the car is parked before 10 a.m.
Barb Berry, 52, of North Royalton works as a paralegal in an office on West Prospect Avenue and parked in the Gateway North garage for more than 10 years before the casino arrived.
She pays a lower $70 monthly rate in another city garage in the Gateway professional-sports complex, but the longer walk to work can sometimes make a big difference to someone struggling with a bad knee.
“I don’t mind the walk,” said Berry. “I do when it’s 6 below.”
Gordon Hathaway, a 65-year-old retiree from Cleveland’s West Side, drives downtown a couple of times a month to visit his credit union, have lunch or show the area to out-of-town visitors. He tries to save money by parking at meters on the street, but he said spaces have been scarce.
“I’m a big supporter of the casino,” said Hathaway, who has cut back on his downtown trips because of the parking situation. “But I’ve found it more difficult to find a place to park since it opened.”
Comparison with a Plain Dealer survey conducted 10 years ago shows that parking rates have changed little at many downtown lots. The exception is in the casino area, where maximum daily charges are up $3 to $9.
The rates remain a bargain when held up against those charged in the central business districts of major North American cities, according to a survey taken last year by Colliers International, a commercial real estate company. The top 10 daily rates range from $25 in Philadelphia to $42 in Honolulu.
Cleveland remains on par with Columbus and Cincinnati, according to the Colliers study. Cleveland data have been included in the survey in the past but not last year.
Downtown has plenty of parking available, according to Michael Wolf, a Chicago-based vice president for Standard Parking. The company operates the casino garage and other facilities in the city.
Wolf acknowledged the area around the Horseshoe is experiencing price increases and a parking crunch. But he sees it as a trade-off.
“The casino has really helped to sort of revitalize the whole downtown area,” he said.