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Tonight's Brad Paisley concert to be the first real test for parking

Maybe you've heard this, but there are people who wonder whether there's enough parking to accommodate events at Wichita's downtown arena.

Tonight, the Great Parking Debate could come to a head. The new Intrust Bank Arena hosts its first event, a sold-out concert by country star Brad Paisley starting at 7:30 p.m.

A line of people already has formed in chilly 19-degree weather outside the main entrance. A large inflatable wolf from a local radio station is blasting country music.

No major parking concerns surfaced during an open house at the 15,000-seat arena last week that drew more than 25,000 people. But visitors could park anywhere for free and come and go all day.

Tonight, for the first time, arena parking won't be free, and people will come and go at about the same time.

Planners expect it'll work out just fine.

"I think we're feeling pretty confident," said Mandy Pankratz, an economic development analyst for the city who is coordinating parking and traffic mobility for the arena. "We know we're going to have some challenges that we're going to have to deal with. It's going to be a learning experience for everybody."

Police will have 16 officers and two supervisors at the scene. Pankratz and two traffic engineers from the city will be on hand to observe and identify problems.

Spaces are available at all city-owned or city-leased parking lots, Pankratz said. Prices range from $4 to $15, depending on proximity to the arena. The farthest lot is 1,950 feet from the arena, about four blocks. Most lots are within 1,200 feet, or three blocks, she said.

Prices are $4, $6, $8, $10 and $15. Payment must be made in cash.

For more information and a map similar to the one on Page 1A, people can go to www.parkdowntown.org.

People can also call the parking information hotline at 316-268-4242. Callers who leave a name and phone number will be contacted by Pankratz, who will answer their questions. She asks that people call before the event starts.

The city has installed signs on Kellogg and I-135 showing exits for the arena.

Once in the arena neighborhood, signs are posted with arrows pointing to the designated parking lots.

No streets in the arena neighborhood will be closed tonight. Last Saturday during the grand opening, Waterman was closed east of Emporia for foot traffic. But Waterman will remain open tonight so traffic can reach parking lots on both sides of the arena.

"We're trying to keep as many options open as possible because that helps cut down on traffic jams and bottlenecks," Pankratz said.

She added that she and the two traffic engineers will be able to communicate with each other and with police at the scene to try to fix any significant problems that occur.

One concern is that traffic on Emporia may back up after the concert as people leave a parking lot on that street, Pankratz said. Police may have to direct traffic there to prevent the problem, she said.

Free shuttle service to and from the event will be provided by two trolleys on the Q-Line and five city transit buses.

They will pick up people who park at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Exploration Place and Old Town, and drop them off on the west side of the arena, on Emporia.

The trolleys will operate from noon to midnight and run in clockwise and counterclockwise loops with stops at nine designated locations. People also can flag the trolleys and be picked up at the next intersection.

The buses will start running at 6 p.m. and run until 8, then again from 10 p.m. until midnight. People will be able to flag the buses and be picked up at the next intersection.

The buses will run counter-clockwise along the Q-Line route from 6 to 8 p.m., and clockwise from 10 p.m. to midnight in order to serve Lawrence-Dumont Stadium more quickly.

The two trolleys will run in the opposite direction than the buses during those times. They will run their normal routes — one in each direction — from 8 to 10 p.m.

Pankratz said she expects a few thousand people to ride the shuttles. More than 2,300 rode the trolleys at last week's open house.

For more information on the Q-Line, go to www.theqline.com.

"We've done a lot of planning, and we're anxious to find out what places have been successful, and where we need to do more work," Pankratz said.

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