USC fans unhappy but resigned to pay parking fees

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got till it's gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

-- From "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell

COLUMBIA -- For thousands of South Carolina football fans each fall, paradise is a parking lot one located close to Williams-Brice Stadium.

This season, paradise comes at a price.

The Gamecock Club, USC's booster organization, is charging members for football parking for the first time (between $75 and $595 per space depending on location, $875 for RVs). The priciest of some 7,400 club spaces are 750 premium spots in paved lots adjacent to the stadium.

Tack on increased costs for football tickets and club memberships, and it's no surprise some members are unhappy.

"Suddenly, it seems like we're being nickel-and-dimed, or $150-$200ed, to death," said Jerry Gatch, band director at Lexington High School and a full scholarship donor for about 12 years.

But with the Gamecocks' home opener (7 p.m. Saturday) vs. Louisiana-Lafayette two days away, most seem willing to bite the financial bullet.

"It's just something we'll have to budget for in the future," said Charley Buchanan, a retired ETV employee and full scholarship donor whose family tailgates with the Gatches.

"I think we all realize that we had a wonderful thing for all those years, and now it's come to an end. I understand completely why they had to do it."

Those words are a comfort to Gamecock Club director Chris Wyrick, who said he has had plenty of complaints, but no defections.

"I can truly say I don't know of a single member who canceled because he's being charged for parking," Wyrick said. "Not one has said, 'That's it, I'm done.'"

Father-son lawsuit

That's true even in the most extreme example of fan backlash.

On Aug. 14, father-son real estate appraisers Harvey and Joseph Rosen sued USC's athletics department and the Gamecock Club for $1.5 million over the loss of their free parking spots adjacent to the stadium.

This week, Joseph Rosen said, his family received its 24 season tickets but not passes for the three parking spots in dispute. Nevertheless, he and friends will attend the game.

The Rosens are in a rare situation, having purchased three lifetime Silver Spur memberships, which, the Rosens said, were to include free parking. Lifetime deals account for 220 of 14,444 Gamecock Club memberships.

For most members, Wyrick said, complaints have been less about parking than the "cumulative effect of all the changes.

"It's parking on top of increased dues, increased ticket prices," he said. "Certainly, there's a sticker shock. But we had to do it all at one time, unfortunately."

That, athletics director Eric Hyman said, is so USC can raise capital for its future purchase of the State Farmers Market opposite the stadium -- a planned $14.5 million project, Hyman said.

Parking revenues this season will yield $1.3 million and an $800,000 profit, Wyrick said.

USC fans likely will see the cost of parking rise again. USC's parking contract ends after the 2009 season, and State Fair director Gary Goodman said plans are to upgrade parking areas in 2009 with trees and green space.

Cost: about $3 million.