Expect to walk: Driving to and parking near new Crew stadium a whole new ballgame

Bill Bush Tim Carlin Bethany Bruner
The Columbus Dispatch
Parking at Lower.com Field

For most fans, getting to a game at Columbus Crew's new Lower.com Field will inevitably involve walking, as on-site parking will be almost non-existent and a shuttle-bus deal with COTA is still in the works, officials say. 

With the stadium site locked in by the Olentangy River to the west, Interstate 670 to the north, and elevated railroad tracks to the east, pushing all vehicular traffic through one intersection at Hocking Street and West Nationwide Boulevard, the plan has always been that fans would have to walk into and out of the new soccer stadium area.

The new design hopes to tap into "the soccer culture" of making an outing of games, with fans meeting up with friends at area bars and restaurants before the match and not going straight home afterwards, said Peter John-Baptiste, a spokesman for team owner Haslam Sports Group.

"Obviously that's different than what we had historically" at the former Mapfre Stadium, which was surrounded by 5,000 immediately adjacent parking spaces at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair, and not a restaurant in sight. Fans will be making an adjustment to the more pedestrian-centered facility, John-Baptiste said.

Arriving at Lower.com Field

When will the parking garage near Lower.com Field open?

The city-owned 600-car garage adjacent to the new stadium won't open until early 2023 to coincide with completion of the mixed-use development around the stadium, and the city is currently working with the Crew to determine access to the garage for spectators, said Debbie Briner, spokeswoman with the city Department of Public Service.

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"Fans will be encouraged to use COTA and other mobility options, and it’s our understanding the Crew will be doing extensive fan outreach to encourage this," said Melanie Crabill, a spokeswoman for Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. "Fans who choose to drive will be directed to park at garages and surface lots east of the stadium and then walk" using Nationwide Boulevard.

Where can Columbus Crew fans park?

There are almost 1,900 parking spaces in nine lots and garages within a half-mile radius of the new stadium, said Marc Conte, acting executive director of Capital Crossroads & Discovery Special Improvement Districts. Going out another half-mile adds another 3,250 spaces in six facilities, including the 1,496-car McConnell Garage adjacent to Nationwide Arena.

Go another half-mile away from Lower.com Field — or up to a mile and a half walk to the stadium — and there are 19,500 more parking spaces at 37 locations, including the massive 3,150-car Nationwide Garage at 285 N. Front St.

But some of these garages may not be available for event parking, Conte said, and "I don’t know how many spaces would be needed if all of the Arena District venues had events at the same time."

Departing Lower.com Field

Parking nightmare? What happens when Crew, Blue Jackets have games? 

The same notion of what the parking situation would become when multiple Downtown events are happening at once has also crossed the mind of Tim Emery, a manager at Boston's Restaurant & Sports Bar in the Arena District. Parking isn't going to be a big issue facing the area after the new Crew stadium opens, Emery said, because the multiple garages in the district would provide enough spaces.

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 He was concerned, though, about what could happen if there would ever be Crew, Clippers and Blue Jackets games on the same day with all three facilities in fairly close proximity.

"That could get interesting," Emery said.

Zack Price, a daytime manager at Char Bar, 439 N. High St., also noted the many garage spaces available for guests and said Char Bar has an employee parking lot on its property. Price said he is more concerned about the traffic that will be caused by games than he is the parking situation in the Arena District, pointing out the congestion that often plagues High Street.

"It'll be a lot of work, but I'm looking forward to the day we have all three venues filled," said Columbus police Lt. Marc Dopp, who said police will have a visible presence both inside and outside the new Crew stadium for security and to help keep traffic flowing, with about 25 officers assigned.

Columbus Blue Jackets fans walk around Nationwide Arena before Game 3 against Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio on April 14, 2019.

Traffic flow around the stadium should mimic Ohio State football games

Traffic will flow in designated directions into Downtown before the first game at the new venue, which is scheduled July 3 versus the New England Revolution, and afterwards to get fans back home. 

Dopp said police are treating the parking and traffic flow at the new Crew stadium similar to how traffic is handled at Ohio State University home football games. Motorists will be directed into parking lots, depending on what direction someone is coming from, and streets will be closed to further traffic as those lots become full, he said.

"The majority of the parking is going to be in the garages near Nationwide Arena," Dopp said. "We're going to ask for fans to be patient. There's only so much parking we can accommodate in the area.

"It's going to be very much like a Blue Jackets game," he said. 

Dopp said he knows there will be people who are unhappy about having to park in those garages because they are farther away from the stadium and will have to walk, but he noted that parking spots are simply limited near the field. 

"People are creatures of comfort," he said. "I get it. I want to get as close as I can, too." 

Dopp said there will be a designated area for rideshare service dropoffs and pickups and there will also be areas where those riding bikes or scooters can safely park. Fans can also utilize garages in the Short North area and parking throughout Downtown and then use scooters or COTA to get to the arena. 

As you would expect, the closer you park to Lower.com Field, the more you'll pay. A representative from LAZ Special Events Parking, which owns multiple parking lots and garages in the Arena District, could not officially release game day pricing for LAZ properties. But they told The Dispatch that prices would most likely be between the $10-20 range. A spokesperson for Park Place Parking, which owns two lots on Spruce St., said the company will be charging between $25 and $30 for game day parking.

Central Ohio Transit Authority, which has two regular bus lines, numbers 3 and 8, that already get fans within a half-mile of the stadium, is in talks with the team about shuttle bus services from offsite lots — similar to what it has done with Ohio State football games.  However, nothing is expected to be operational until at least after the stadium opens, said Aslyne Rodriguez, COTA's director of government affairs.

"Those are conversations that we're having as to where would be the right place in this partnership," Rodriguez said, including "what's the safest spot to deliver people."