Price gouging at high school graduation?
FORT MYERS - Call it Capitalism 101.
Some high school graduates, parents and teachers feel sucker punched when they went to park for their ceremony in downtown Fort Myers - but were charged to park in spots that are free on weekends.
"Do you think that's fair?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"It's all convenience," said Fort Myers public works director Saeed Kazemi. "Just how much you want to pay [for] convenience, to be close to the event. It was your choice."
Several graduations were held at the Harborside Event Center last weekend including Cape Coral and Dunbar high schools.
The row of parking spaces along Edwards Drive is free on weekends and costs 25 cents an hour during the week. But students, who were directed to park there according to one teacher, were charged $6 to park for their own graduation - the equivalent of parking for 24 hours.
The city has never charged for graduation parking before.
"The decision was made this year," said Kazemi, "because we had limited parking available."
The city hired a valet company that charged $8 to valet park cars. They also blocked off the parking lot next to Harborside charging parents and district staff $6 to park there.
The $6 price also put a premium on handicapped spots close to the event. There were free handicapped spots available, according to Kazemi, but they were underneath a bridge more than a block away.
"At the same time if that handicap was willing to pay," said Kazemi, "there was parking available in parking garage, valet and the manned parking."
School board member Don Armstrong says he was troubled to see people charged when it's free for graduates and parents to park at Germain Arena.
"Why are we taking advantage of this situation?," asked Armstrong. "These people work hard for their money."
The city gets a cut of all the money that was made over the weekend. Kazemi said he didn't know how much that was.
He points out that the school district's contract with Harborside doesn't mention anything about providing free parking.
"Some people would say this is gouging kids on their graduation?," Grant asked.
"No," said Kazemi. "They had a choice. One block away they had free parking available."
Armstrong says, in his opinion, the time has expired on the district's relationship with Harborside.
"I don't want to see any more events here," said Armstrong, "if that's how our parents and taxpayers are going to be treated."
Fox 4 left messages for Harborside's spokesperson Rose Rundle on Monday and again Wednesday. She did not return any of our calls.
"Staff will review past contracts and experiences," a spokesperson for the Lee County School District said in a statement, "as they work out new contracts" for next year.