Sun Dome expects traffic overflow
He is said to bring faith and healing to his followers, but this week, televangelist Benny Hinn will bring traffic and parking problems to USF and the surrounding community.
Frank Granda, operations coordinator for Parking and Transportation Services, said students and staff should be aware that parking may be delayed and re-routed on and near campus Thursday and Friday. The congestion will be due to crowds of more than 10,000 expected to attend the Benny Hinn Ministries Crusade at the Sun Dome.
“We want to get the word out so people can plan,” Granda said.
Hinn, a well-known televangelist who travels the country performing services is, known for his alleged ability to heal the sick with a mere touch.
On Thursday and Friday, several lots near the Sun Dome will be reserved for Hinn attendees. Lot 22F, which is located on the east side of the Sun Dome, Lot 6 and the intramural fields near Lot 6, which is located north of the Sun Dome near the Campus Recreation Center, will be reserved for the event. However, Sun Dome lots 22A, 22D and 22E, as well as Lot 18B off Sycamore, will still be available for student parking.
Granda said people often come early to the event and non-student parking is expected to begin around 10 a.m. Thursday. He added that throughout the day, especially during the afternoon, there will be an influx of attendees until about 7 p.m., when the program begins.
“Our staff will be out there directing traffic,” Granda said.
Doors open at 3 p.m. for the event Thursday. Because tickets are free and seating is first-come, first-served, people can be expected to try to park early. When Hinn visited Lakeland in October, many people arrived at the service five hours before its start.
University officials, however, are not worried about any protests.
“We had protests for Promise Keepers this summer … this is strictly a religious organization. We don’t expect protesters,” said Clark Brooks, marketing and promotions manager for the Sun Dome.
Brooks estimated anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 people could attend each service. Despite the increase in traffic flow, Brooks said USF and University Police are working to reduce the inconvenience to students and staff.
In fact, UP is already preparing for the visitors.
“History tells us this is not a sold-out event, but a capacity event,” said Sgt. Mike Klingebiel, spokesman for UP.
Klingebiel said the last time Hinn held an event at USF, Jan. 13 and 14, 2001, parking was a large issue.
Traffic was backed up on Fowler and Fletcher avenues, as well as 56th and 50th streets. He said Fletcher and Fowler Avenues were backed up from I-75 to I-275 last time, and that this time they are working to ease traffic flow.
However, even with the help of other agencies, which Klingebiel was unsure of as of Tuesday evening, managing upwards of 10,000 people can be difficult. He said sometimes people arrive when there is no one available to direct them. Klingebiel said he recalls campers and motor homes parked in the Sun Dome lot, while Granda remembered cars arriving at 5 a.m. the day of the first services.
In addition to these problems, Klingebiel said people may be turned away at the doors due to the Sun Dome’s capacity being filled.
“It is much like graduation,” said Klingebiel of the types of problems encountered. The only difference, he said, was that this event is being held on days the university is open and when regular traffic issues are being compounded by the addition of thousands of visitors.
Granda said Parking and Transportation Services has gone to great lengths to notify the university students and staff. Flyers posted throughout campus, sandwich boards warning about the potential parking situation, ads placed in The Oracle Wednesday and Thursday, as well as postings on the USF list-servs are all meant to help guide university students and staff so they are not affected too much by the Sun Dome event. At least six programmable sign boards will be used to direct traffic, as well.
Granda encourages all students and staff with valid USF parking decals coming onto campus after 5:30 p.m. to park in gold, staff and other lots since they are able to do so without penalty after that time. He also urges people not to park near the Sun Dome and to instead find parking west of Maple Drive.
People attending the Hinn program will have to pay for parking, however, students and staff with valid USF parking decals will not have to pay anything and can still park in any open lot. However, it is advised they steer clear of the Sun Dome in order to avoid congestion and lines of traffic.
“We are trying to encourage folks to be prepared and to get to campus early to find parking,” Granda said.