Stephan "Center Ice Steve" Wright is a devoted Thunder hockey fan. So much so that he goes to games about two hours early, he says, to get an on-site parking spot at Intrust Bank Arena. Wright has degenerative arthritis and walks with a cane. Handicapped parking on game nights is lacking, he and others say.
Enough Thunder fans have complained that the Wichita/Sedgwick County Access Advisory Board has it on the agenda for its next meeting.
"We have had enough complaints so that we and by we, I mean the collective we — folks at the city, folks at the county and folks at SMG — all recognize that there are some problems," said Dave Calvert, chairman of the group .
Calvert said anyone with concerns about handicapped parking can come to the board's meeting at 10 a.m. March 24 at the Independent Living Resource Center, 3033 W. Second St.
SMG, which manages the arena, is working to resolve the concerns, said Sarah Haertl, director of sales and marketing for the arena.
Calvert said the group has not fielded complaints about handicapped parking for concerts and other events at the arena, which seats up to 15,000.
But the 24 on-site handicapped parking spaces — free on a first-come, first-served basis — aren't adequate for hockey games, Wright said.
"Most weekend games we're having to arrive two hours before game time to secure one of those 24 spaces close to the building, then sit there and wait for an hour for the arena to open," Wright said in an e-mail to The Eagle.
The Thunder's opening night at the arena — which drew a capacity crowd —"was a nightmare for the handicapped," Wright said.
Mandy Pankratz, economic development analyst for the city and its arena parking coordinator, said officials are aware that some fans have been disappointed by parking.
"We're always looking at things we can do to make things better," she said.
She and Calvert said the city is working on new maps to be included in publications and online that show where handicapped parking is available.
"We want to make sure that people know there are handicapped spaces available in pretty much all the parking lots, they just aren't all in significant numbers," Pankratz said.
Handicapped parking is available in four city-owned lots at the lowest parking fee charged on any given event night.
In addition, privately owned lots that provide parking during events have handicapped spaces.
The city also recently resurfaced the former Spaghetti Warehouse parking lot and a nearby city lot, adding eight handicapped spaces. In addition, the city is working with parking lot attendants to educate them about where people with disabilities can park, she said.
Parking spaces in off-site lots, Wright said, "kind of defeat the purpose of being a handicapped space, which needs to be close up to the arena. A space even a block or two away is no benefit to a handicapped person."
The number of parking spaces required under the Americans with Disabilities Act is based on the total number of parking spaces available, not on the size of the building or how many people it seats.
The arena is ADA-compliant, Pankratz said.
The act requires, for example, seven handicapped spots for lots with 201 to 300 total spaces. There are 263 on-site spaces at the arena, 24 of which are for people who are handicapped.
There are 18 handicapped spaces in Lot D, southeast of the arena on Waterman, which has a total of 470 spaces. The requirement for lots with 401 to 500 spaces is nine.
Wright wondered whether parking spaces reserved for premium seat holders could be opened up on game nights. People who purchase premium seating get season tickets to Thunder games and a reserved on-site parking space, Pankratz said.
Although few of those reserved spaces are used on game nights, they have to be kept available for premium seat holders, Pankratz said.
"The arena has no way to predict who is going to come to the hockey games," she said. "If they have tickets, then it's possible they will come."
Wright said he has been attending Thunder games since 1992. He goes to 10 to 15 games a year.
"I love the arena," he said Tuesday. "It's nice and everything. But now I've got to get to games two hours early just to secure one of those spaces.
"They weren't ready for the Thunder fans at all."
Steve Stambaugh, vice president for vision rehabilitation services at Envision and a member of the access advisory group, said he's heard handicapped parking complaints only about game nights.
He said it's important for people to let the city and county know about such concerns.
"That's the only way things can be addressed," he said.