Parking at Costa Rica’s new National Stadium in western San José is an unsolved riddle.
A Tico Times investigation found that only 200 parking spaces exist for a stadium that will accommodate up to 35,000 people. That means that to park in the stadium’s lot, event attendees would have to carpool with 172 other people – in each car.
As the final touches are being put on the attractive, $100 million National Stadium – being built by Chinese company Anhui Foreign Economic Construction, primarily with Chinese government funding – attention has turned to upcoming inaugural events, including a widely publicized March 29 soccer match between Costa Rica and Argentina, and an April 3 concert by Colombian pop star Shakira.
But what about parking?
“The public will have to look for parking close to the stadium,” explained Juan Carlos Bonilla, a spokesman for the Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER), a government agency overseeing stadium development.
“[People] can come by train or bus. If they drive, they will have to find parking near the stadium,” he said.
As simple as that sounds, finding parking near the National Stadium, located on the west side of La Sabana Park, can be challenging. Nearby streets are narrow and often dense with traffic during the day and during rush hours.
In the neighborhood, narrow two-lane roads split from main roads, with small businesses and restaurants crowding the curb. To the east of the stadium is the expanse of La Sabana Park, with acres of space dedicated to soccer fields, a small lake and an urban forest. But no parking.
On Sundays, dozens of families flock to the park, leaving their cars along the Próspero Fernández Highway, which leads to the capital’s southwestern suburbs.
When the stadium opens, demand for parking will increase tenfold.
“Thousands of people will need parking in a tiny space,” said Germán Chávez, manager at Multigráfica, a small printing company on the stadium’s north side.
“So far, no one has talked to us about using our parking lot for events, but we expect people will try to park here,” he said.
Several other owners of nearby businesses agreed. While some are excited about the increased commerce that will likely come, the unsolved parking issue is causing many to worry.
El Chicote restaurant has one of the bigger parking lots on the north side of the stadium, but currently allows only customers to park there.
ICODER’s Bonilla also said that parking lots at the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, north of the stadium, and the Agriculture Ministry (MAG), south of the stadium, would be considered as parking options for events.
This week, MAG spokeswoman Rosa Brenes told The Tico Times that no one at ICODER had contacted them regarding parking on the premises. Brenes also said parking in MAG’s lot “is not logistically possible,” because it lacks “the capacity [and] security to allow for public parking.”
“After speaking with several MAG employees, including Minister [Gloria Abraham], ICODER [officials] have made no official request for parking spaces,” Brenes said.
“The vehicles parked in our lot are MAG vehicles and other vehicles aren’t permitted to park here. Allowing for stadium parking here isn’t a possibility,” she said.
Big Stadiums Need Big Plans
In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys built the largest-capacity NFL stadium in the U.S. With a capacity for 110,000 people, the monstrous stadium was built in Arlington, Texas, a town of 375,000 situated between the larger “metroplex” cities of Dallas and Fort Worth.
The central streets of Arlington – the largest U.S. city without a public transportation system – are similar to San José streets around Costa Rica’s National Stadium. Lined with small restaurants and businesses, Arlington’s avenues are narrow and clogged.
When Arlington was selected to be the Dallas Cowboys’ new home, city officials’ biggest concern was parking. How was a town with already cramped streets going to host 80,000 fans on Sundays, as well as a Super Bowl in February 2011? planners asked.
“The city of Arlington worked with landowners in the area during construction to incorporate them in our plans,” said Brett Daniels, director of corporate communications for the Dallas Cowboys.
“We knew all along in our planning that entrepreneurial and local business parking would be part of the solution here. When we had commitments from local businesses for use of their lots, we were able to include them in our parking plans,” he said.
According to Daniels, the stadium has only 12,000 parking spaces but has an agreement with the neighboring Texas Rangers baseball team to use their stadium’s lot as well. Combined, the two lots offer approximately 24,000 parking spots, and additional traffic is controlled by the city of Arlington.
“If everyone brings an average of three people per vehicle, that’s around 75,000,” Daniels said. “With the cooperation of the other available lots, we have yet to see any real parking problems thus far.”
Daniels also said that two years have gone into planning the Super Bowl, which will be held in Arlington early next year.
In late November, four months prior to the inauguration of the National Stadium, ICODER announced the Costa Rica-Argentina match and the Shakira concert. The complete program for inauguration week is yet to be announced, and no official parking plans have been made public. It is unclear whether any even exist.
The Tico Times attempted to contact José Pablo Badilla, an attorney representing Chinese construction company Anhui Foreign Economic Construction, but was unable to speak with him by press time.
On a fence on the north side of the street that flanks the National Stadium, a Coldwell Banker sign advertises property for sale. “Ideal for tower or parking,” the sign says.
In the compact landscape surrounding La Sabana Park, construction of a parking garage could serve as a remedy to the potential transit mess caused by National Stadium events.
“I think the location is ideal for a parking garage,” said José Zúñiga, manager of Coldwell Banker Vesta Group Escazú, which manages the property next to the stadium. “There is enough space on the property to build two levels of underground parking and two levels above ground. It’s a much better option than having to pay someone by the hour to watch your car when you go to an event, like they do at many stadiums in Costa Rica.”
“I think that if there is no plan in place, people will just start parking on the fields of (La Sabana) park,” Zúñiga said.
“They might try to control it at first but, with nowhere to park, there might not be anything that can be done to stop it. If that happens, it could demolish the park. It would be a total catastrophe,” he said.