Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Charity walkers pay to park

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        Thousands of people rose early on Sunday to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. Also greeting the dawn: Parking-lot operators who couldn't resist making money off the volunteers.

        I was annoyed. So were a few other participants in the Multiple Sclerosis Walk, which began at 9 a.m. Sunday and covered 10 miles.

        “We all stated that (the lots) would be free today because it's Sunday morning, and there's nothing else competing,” said Sue Marshall of Villa Hills.

        Downtown lots are unattended on Sundays unless special events are scheduled. A concert at Cinergy Field didn't start until hours after the walk. Still, the city charged walkers $3 to park at Sawyer Point, and Sagamore charged $4 at private lots nearby.

        It wasn't so much the amount of money as the principle of the thing.

Urban location
        “Plenty of individuals are giving their own money and their own time for a good cause, and the least these people could do is open their parking gates,” said Terry Lampke of Erlanger.

        In past years, the Multiple Sclerosis Society has requested free spots to no avail, said Tena Bunnell, the local chapter president.

        Sunday's walk started at Sawyer Point and proceeded through Mount Adams. With 3,000 participants, it should raise more than $300,000.

        Walkers got a bit of a break.

        The city usually charges $5 for noncharity events, says Bruce Privett of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

Everybody does it
        Free parking isn't possible because private competitors would cry foul, he says. Also, Sawyer Point operates on fees instead of taxes, and parking charges provide $330,000 of its $1.1 million budget.

        “One hundred percent of your parking dollar goes back into the park. At least it's not going back into the city treasury or a private individual's pocket,” Mr. Privett says.

        Sagamore Parking runs the Gregory Centre lot on Pete Rose Way. The center usually donates 100 spaces to volunteers working charity events.

The charity rate
        Additional participants pay $4 compared to the usual $5 to $10 for Reds games or concerts, says Sagamore President Bob Meek.

        Mr. Meek says he can't leave lots unattended for charity events, because walkers might make a mess.

        Or they might go to a Reds game afterward, thus parking all day for free, he says.

Other events
        I don't know about that. After my walk on Sunday, I went home and collapsed.

        The March of Dimes has a similar event at Sawyer Point. The free spaces at Gregory Centre are great but not enough for 7,000 walkers and 400 volunteers, organizer Sharon Matsudo says.

        “It is disappointing,” she says.

        Not to Ms. Bunnell, the MS Society president.

        Corporations such as Kroger and Chiquita donate food for walkers, and Western-Southern Life Insurance Co. gives $25,000, she says.

        Other companies may not have as much room for generosity. Parking lots have to make money, too, Ms. Bunnell says.

        I appreciate the charity in her view.

        I still think it's tacky for lot operators to profit from other people's unselfishness.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.