May 23, 2023

'Outrageously high' parking fee imposed at new Fishers beach park


Photo credit Fishers Parks.

Photo credit Fishers Parks.

Geist Waterfront Park opens this weekend in Fishers. Residents in the affluent Indianapolis suburb have long wanted more public access to one of the only large bodies of water in Central Indiana.  The new park is getting attention after Fishers City Council members recently voted to impose a steep parking rate for nonresidents. WFYI’s Jill Sheridan spoke to Fishers city councilor Jocelyn Vare, who voted against the new fee.

Sheridan: If you could give us a little bit of background on this project. I know this is a project that many Fishers residents have wanted for a long time – a public park and beach access at Geist – so a little history.

Vare: Yes, it's a very special project. The city of Fishers purchased the lands for this project way back in 2018. And it was the last remaining undeveloped parcel along Geist Reservoir. And the purpose behind it was to create the first public access to Geist Reservoir, and $30 million has been invested in the project.

Sheridan: The story that we're following today is about an issue that came up with the parking. Once the beach opens, there will be restrictions for people that are not Fishers residents.

Vare: We understand that this is a long-awaited grand opening of the Geist Waterfront Park. And fair enough –  we are expecting big crowds to come to enjoy it. According to the city of Fishers government, the Fishers Parks Department, it is anticipated that the parking lot will not accommodate the amount of demand for the park.

Therefore, there had to be something in place where the park literally had to control the crowds, so that it was safe for everyone to be there. The decision was made by the city of Fishers government – and again, the Parks Department – to incur a special parking fee for folks that are coming to visit the park who do not live in Fishers. And that parking fee was $50 per day for nonresident visitors.

Sheridan: Fifty dollars. I think when people hear that for a public park – we understand that Fishers residents have, ultimately, taxpayers invested in this park – but we hear that number and we consider what other parks that we have to pay for, state parks, other beach access parks. It seems like it may give people some serious sticker shock.

Vare: That's exactly how I felt. The fee for nonresidents was outrageously high. And I felt – and many of my fellow Fishers residents feel – like it is priced so high that it is designed to discourage people from coming to the park. And there is not a similar pricing fee that we are accustomed to paying. My daughter works at Disney World. And I can tell you parking for a day at Disney World’s 25 bucks.

Sheridan: And like you said, it could seem to some that this is discouraging people from outside of the city to come to the park when many in the city would likely like Fishers to be a welcoming community.

Vare: Exactly. And I believe, I know, Fishers is a welcoming community – something just went off the rails here. This is not feeling like the welcoming community that we are. I believe if the pricing was a $10 fee for nonresidents, we would not be having a conversation.

Sheridan: Moving forward… these plans are not set in stone if the council decides to change these. Then we're being flexible moving into the future. Correct?

Vare: Right. So the City Council approved the $50 parking fee for nonresidents with a seven to two vote. I voted against it. The silver lining was it's only going to be in place for one year. And next year, this parking fee will have to be reevaluated. So I'm grateful for that.

However, I want to be clear that for days now, the public in Fishers and outside of Fishers have expressed clearly their dismay about this price point, and it really should come down now.

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The beach opens this weekend. In addition to the $50 fee, nonresidents have to make a reservation 48 hours in advance if they want to visit.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @JillASheridan.

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