Tailgaters Try to Thwart Changes

Muni Lot denizens unhappy with later opening time in the legendary tailgate area.

Larry Oliver returned to his tailgate spot following the Browns' rain-soaked 19-17 preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams on Aug. 21. Oliver, who arrived to claim his spot at 1 p.m., was drying out and firing up his grill for some postgame grub.

That's when his friends, who arrived late to the game, finally met up with Oliver. As soon as they arrived, they asked Oliver if he, too, received the now infamous flier.

"I had no idea what they were talking about," said Oliver, 30, a Browns season ticket holder since 2000.

Oliver read a flier from the City of Cleveland Division of Parking Facilities that has handed out to some fans before the Aug. 21 game. It stated the Municipal Parking Lot, or "Muni Lot," will now open at 7 a.m. on game days, instead of 4 a.m., and the cost will increase from $15 to $20.

"While I wasn't doing cartwheels over the price increase, it's understandable," Oliver said. "That didn't seem like that big of a deal. The problem we have is the time change.

"There is no reason to change the time and for the amount of headaches and nightmares it creates, it doesn't make sense."

Scott Nunnari arrived at the Muni Lot at 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 21. He is a member of the Muni Lot Browns Backers and he is known for his tailgating bus that looks like a dog wearing a Browns helmet. Longtime parking attendant, known only as Pat, greeted Nunnari at the entrance and informed him of the lot's new regulations.

Nunnari was told the man behind the plan was Liegh Stevens, the Parking Facilities Commissioner. Nunnari asked Pat if he could speak to Stevens.

"He came down and my first thing I wanted to do was ask him why," Nunnari said. "I didn't want to attack the guy. He said he wanted to get in line with other lots in other cities."

According to Nunnari, two parking attendants and a security guard work the lot.

"If you're charging $5 a person you get that back instantly," Nunnari said. "I told him the only other reasons he wanted to do this was a Steelers fan. Nobody told him he had to do this. He said he wanted it open at 9 a.m. He doesn't care about sports or any particular team. He doesn't understand what this is all about."

On Aug. 26, Stevens returned a call to the Orange and Brown Report. Stevens would not answer questions and instead cited the city's policy to go through the director's office first.

For two days the Orange and Brown Report attempted to earn a phone interview with Michael Cox, who is the director of the Department of Parks, Recreations and Properties. Messages left for Cox were not returned.

Oliver and Nunnari are not the only Browns fans that disagree with the city. In an effort to sway the City of Cleveland, Oliver and fellow 10-year season ticket holder Chuck Dean started an online petition on the evening of Aug. 26. At 4 p.m. on Aug. 27, the petition had 3,237 signatures.

"In researching and trying to find how to contact Mr. Stevens, I Googled the Muni Lot," said Oliver, who lives in Cleveland works as a professional surveyor. "It said there are 2,000 spots. I think right around 2,000 spots are enough to open his eyes."

Among the fans' concerns is a possible traffic backup on the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, which is located just north to the Muni Lot on the east side of Cleveland Browns Stadium.

"The western Muni lot is almost filled by 8 a.m., especially for big games like the home opener or against the Steelers," Oliver said. "The traffic, to say the least, will be a nightmare. It'll be lined up on the Shoreway and down E. 9th. Then, you run the risk of people, who are rebels, might get out of their vehicles while they're waiting in line and start tailgating then. Safety has got to be a major concern."

Nunnari estimates 75 tailgaters show up between 4-5 a.m. on game day in order to set up their elaborate spots. Nunnari said he arrives at 4 a.m. each home game and he is usually the sixth or seventh car in line.

"It's the same people every week and we're all friends," Nunnari said. "We are able to get there early, establish yourself and talk to each other before it gets busy when people start trickling in. It still backs up on the Shoreway on opening day. If you hold the doors shut until 7 a.m., oh my word. You're talking 1,000 cars backed up on the Shoreway, E. 9th and Marginal Road. It'll be a nightmare."

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