WILMINGTON –– An estimated 3,200 cars are expected to steer into downtown next weekend for three consecutive concerts at the City of Wilmington’s new $38-million flagship Riverfront Park, a Live Nation-managed amphitheater. Parking has been top-of-mind for many concertgoers, eager to take advantage of seeing live music along downtown’s Riverwalk.
Within the 15-minute walking vicinity of the newly opened venue, there are just over 2,360 places to park vehicles. That doesn’t mean 800 late birds won’t be able to find a spot, but it does mean they should wear comfortable shoes because they’re in for a walk.
Riverfront Park has been open for a week now. It will hold its first major Live Nation concerts next Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The sold-out Widespread Panic shows will each bring in 7,200 fans (the capacity of the venue) and inevitably attract a sea of ticketless Spreadheads to crowd the Riverwalk or join the pre- and post-concert festivities in area bars and restaurants.
Since it was merely an idea, the formerly named “North Waterfront Park” has faced criticism for being envisioned, designed and built without a single new public parking spot. The City of Wilmington remained committed throughout the years to retaining the entire 6.6 acres as green space and park, despite drawing judgments from city residents and public figures.
Former Wilmington mayor and N.C. Senator Harper Peterson was quoted in media reports in 2018 calling the project a “bridge to nowhere” and questioning whether most of the public would benefit from the amenities without sufficient parking in place.
Years later, critics are dreading the search for a spot ahead of concerts, labeling the parking situation a disaster before the first headliners have even hit the stage. According to operations plans for the park, the city is projecting shows will bring in one car for every three attendees, or 3,200 cars for one sold-out event.
The immediate vicinity surrounding the park –– between Harnett Street and Red Cross Street and between North 3rd Street and the Cape Fear River –– has just 2,366 spaces. That leaves the venue about 830 spaces short for a booked show.
However, there are an additional 3,078 spaces within a 30-minutes walking distance.
City spokesperson Jennifer Dandron said that’s “plenty of parking” for concertgoers as well as the everyday downtown visitor. Downtown parking has been satisfactory for other special events. This past Fourth of July, city-owned parking alone accommodated approximately 3,000 cars. Around 4,000 cars were stationed in city-owned spaces the Saturday of the 2019 Azalea Festival.
Throughout downtown, 4,078 spots are sprawled out across multiple parking decks, including 1,579 in city-owned decks, 650 in the New Hanover County deck and 1,849 in Cape Fear Community College decks. The community college is agreeing to open its paid parking lots and decks when the school or other partners are not utilizing the facilities.
There are also at least 1,066 on-street spots, both metered and non-metered, within the boundary of Market, 4th and Harnett streets, according to the city. Private paid parking lots offer more than 300 spots for visitors.
It all adds up to 5,444 spaces.
Live Nation has also published a parking map on its website with nine recommended parking locations and suggested walking paths along Front Street and down Nutt Street to the venue entrance. The furthest location on the map is a parking lot behind Rebellion restaurant, at 15 S. 2nd St. It’s roughly a 22-minute walk to the venue, according to Google maps.
The city’s community services director Amy Beatty said in an interview last month she envisions concertgoers parking throughout the downtown area, then passing by businesses and choosing to step in for a drink or appetizer.
“A lot of people ask about parking, but really what we see is the positive,” Beatty said.
The Riverwalk, which will remain open during shows despite its great free view of the open-air stage, is another potential and more scenic pedestrian route to the venue.
People who park a good distance from the park and don’t want to walk could jump on the free Port City Trolley for a ride to the Harnett Street stop near the amphitheater. The trolley runs 40-minute or hour-long loops through downtown; however, people won’t be able to catch a ride back, since the service ends at 8 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends.
Wave Transit Executive Director Marie Parker said she is meeting with Live Nation soon for “a site review and logistical discussion.”
“We will have a clearer picture after the first event to see if there is a need,” Parker wrote in an email. “At that point we’ll be able to make a determination.”
In the meantime, the Wave board is voting on a revised route pattern for the trolley that would serve the park more directly. If adopted by the board at its July 22 meeting, the updated route would go into effect Sept. 1, but hours would remain the same.
“It will also serve the Convention Center, Embassy Suites, the Chamber, The Aloft, Best Western, and the Railroad Museum directly on Nutt St, which I’m super excited about,” Parker wrote.
Similarly to the Fourth of July, people should expect traffic delays leaving downtown after concerts. The city’s advice is to “arrive early, stay late,” and be strategic about parking. Those parked north of Red Cross Street will get out of downtown quicker than those parked to the south. Drivers should also consider which direction they’re heading after the show when choosing a spot beforehand, Dandron suggested.
People are also encouraged to use rideshare instead of taking a car. The drop-off and pick-up location for Ubers, Lyfts, taxis and anyone else catching a ride is 201 Harnett St.
In recent months, riders have faced problems ordering Uber and Lyft during a nationwide driver shortage. A Lyft spokesperson said the demand for rides post-Covid restrictions outpaced the number of employees, especially earlier this spring. Now, the ridesharing company is reporting shorter wait times, down more than 15% across the U.S.
“We’ve added thousands of drivers in the past few weeks and it’s already leading to a better rider experience,” the spokesperson said.
Customers of rideshare apps are likely to see surges in pricing before and after concerts. When large numbers of people request rides at the same time, especially during special events, fares will reflect the demand.
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