Parking trumps putting as LSU makes room for fans

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- From left, Chris Miguez, Robbie Mahtook and Robert Karam put up a flat screen TV as they help set up Hab Karam's tailgate on Friday at the corner of Nicholson and Skip Bertman Drives in Baton Rouge. Karam has been tailgating in that spot since 1987. He said students often visit him after four years of attending LSU and seeing his signature ceiling fan.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- From left, Chris Miguez, Robbie Mahtook and Robert Karam put up a flat screen TV as they help set up Hab Karam's tailgate on Friday at the corner of Nicholson and Skip Bertman Drives in Baton Rouge. Karam has been tailgating in that spot since 1987. He said students often visit him after four years of attending LSU and seeing his signature ceiling fan. "If the ceiling fan is on, the football game is on," Karam said.

LSU football defensive masterminds faced an uphill battle before the Tigers’ season ever began after seven starters from last season’s star-studded unit departed, creating a potential void in the Tigers’ traditionally staunch defense.

Like the LSU coaches tasked with filling that void, university parking officials have dealt with a dilemma similar in scope, having lost roughly 2,500 free parking spaces — at least 1,600 permanently — since last season, before a single flag-flying, tail-dragging fan mobile arrived for the team’s first home game in early September.

And like LSU’s football team, parking administrators have gone on the offensive recently, demolishing the LSU Golf Course’s Pitch & Putt par-3 course to make room for 450 free parking spaces on Gourrier Road across from Alex Box Stadium, officials said.

“Parking is at such a premium that we felt that would be a better use of the land at this point,” said Tammy Millican, assistant director of LSU’s facility services. Currently, there are no plans to build another par-3 course.

The demolition highlights the increased demand for parking during LSU home football games, especially free parking, created in part by the reduction of roughly 25 percent of the campus’ free parking accommodations available last season.

LSU’s campus can squeeze in anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 parked cars on game days, said Adam Smith, the director of parking operations for the LSU Athletic Department.

The exact number of spaces depends on several factors, such as how tightly crews direct vehicles on grass lots, including the Hayfield lot and the Levee lots, which together lost between 1,600 and 2,000 spaces when construction began on new recreational multi-purpose athletic fields earlier this year. Another 700 spots are temporarily unavailable in the Kirby Smith lot due to the construction of new residential halls on the north side of campus, Smith said.

“We’re definitely at a loss of free parking spaces for the season,” Smith said.

The Golf Course lot, which will be open for Saturday afternoon’s game against the University of Florida, will at least partially ameliorate the problem, Smith said.

The lot will feature about 100 paved spots in addition to room for roughly 350 vehicles on an improved grass lot with limestone driveways on the land formerly occupied by the Pitch & Putt course, Smith said.

Smith said he hopes the limestone will allow the university to use the lot during inclement weather situations. Several inches of rain the night before the Sept. 21 game against Auburn University partially flooded several of the free lots on campus, creating a bevy of issues for parking planners.

While the amount of free parking spots available has gone down this season, prepaid permit spaces have increased by at least 550, Smith said, with the addition of 200 spots in the Tiger Park lot and about 350 paved spots in the Alex Box lot.

In total, there are about 8,500 prepaid parking spaces, which lease for between $400 and $500 for the season, Smith said.

There also are about 2,250 spaces available for a $40 purchase on the day of the game, such as roughly 500 spots inside the year-old parking garage on Raphael Semmes Road, just behind the campus bookstore, Smith said.

While free parking has filled up for every game this season, Smith said, so far there have always been leftover spaces inside the parking garage, although those spaces, too, have grown in popularity recently.

This week, officials expect at least 100,000 people to flock to LSU campus for the Florida game — a notably conservative estimate considering Tiger Stadium holds more than 93,000 people, the game is sold-out and droves of people tailgate on campus without ever entering the stadium.

“We’re expecting the largest amount of people on campus this week so far” this season, Smith said.