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Spring in the Bull City

Brightleaf's quick-reaction asphalt strike force

From today's Herald-Sun op-ed page... a rather disheartening letter to the dear editors concerning the Brighleaf district. Here's an excerpt:

The other morning, I tried to stop for breakfast and pulled into the large, unfenced parking lot at Gregson and Main. A security guard immediately approached me and asked if I was going to Brightleaf or Alivia's. When I told him Alivia's, he said I could not park there since it was for Brightleaf Square customers only. At that time of the early morning it had only three other vehicles parked there, plus the Brightleaf shops were not yet open. When I pointed that out to the guard, he repeated his order that I had to leave immediately.

So, we've all seen the signs that say "Brightleaf Square Parking" at the open Main & Gregson lot. I recognize that Brightleaf's management owns the parking lots. Heck, that should be obvious given the raucous history over the paid lot across the street. That lot, once free, was converted by Brightleaf management after Peabody Place opened up. (Morgan Imports and Fowler's actually moved over from Brightleaf Square.)

I'm not objecting to this on a legal basis: Brightleaf Square can do what it wants in policing its parking. And it's up to Alivia or any business to make appropriate arrangements for parking -- contractual, if necessary. But I think that on a PR and citizenship front, it's a bad move for a business, and a doubly shameful one for a shopping center that's itself a product of local ownership -- and a beneficiary of significant local goodwill.

Let's be realistic here. A person dining at Alivia's is not "taking away" business from Brightleaf. Certainly not in the wee hours of the morning, when none of dear Brightleaf's establishments are open. There's no excuse for this happening at 7 or 7:30 in the morning, just from a don't-annoy-your-customers perspective. (For my part, I'd rather see more security guards at night in the parking lot, keeping an eye out for the rare but pesky aggressive panhandlers.)

But even later in the day, the benefit that establishments like Alivia's or The Federal or Anotherthyme bring is that they enrich the entire Brightleaf district by creating a lively, bustling scene. People dine near Brightleaf and then walk over to Amelia's for dessert all the time. Or have dinner at Brightleaf and then pop over to Alivia's for a 'corrected coffee' (assuming they remembered to take out that home-equity line before dinner.)

Brightleaf Square went through dark days, not many years ago, where vacancies were up and foot traffic was down. The Durham community stood by them and has supported them during a wonderful revitalization. Durhamites have been quite upset that this year's Taste of Durham won't be held in Brightleaf, for instance, because we see it as our place, as part of what's special about the Bull City.

And I, for one, don't think of Brightleaf as the little box that is drawn between Peabody and Main to the west of Gregson. Like the sign says now as you drive down Gregson, all the way back at Morgan: you're entering the Brightleaf District. If pockets of Durham like Brightleaf Square keep thinking about themselves as just that -- pockets -- we can win every block but lose the broader community.

If Brightleaf Square's management had been really visionary, they would have put in motion the sort of idea that Gary Kueber over at Endangered Durham once mentioned to me (over coffee at Alivia's, no less): build a parking deck on the free lot at Main & Gregson, with retail or apartments/condos lining the outside to hide the aesthetics of a garage. Then Brightleaf can monetize visitors and add more value to the neighborhood, to boot.

But then, aggressive security guards patrolling your lot in the early morning hours are certainly a less expensive way to deal with the problem.

In the short-term, that is.

Comments

GK

Kevin

Thanks for the mention, and I couldn't agree more about the shortsighted-ness here. I'm not really sure what Terry Sanford, Jr.'s goals are moving forward. He owns a big chunk of real estate around this spot, as well as over at Erwin Square - but it's not clear that he really has the will to do anything more productive with any of it. I wonder if the seeming pettiness about parking has to do with leasing agreements - i.e., does he used the guarantee of a certain number of spaces to lure tenants? Retailers fret to no end over the available of copious, highly visible parking

GK

Bull City Rising

No problem (and I just remembered to actually hyperlink back on over....)

I figure one of two things is going on:

1) Sanford Jr. wants to hold out for parking deals with the Alivia's of the world, and either his neighbors are being cheap, or he's asking too much.

2) Sanford Jr. doesn't want to see his property helping the "competition," which comes back to my central point about how we do, and how we should, look at the district as complementary, not competitive.

In most places, I think you're right about the 'free parking' bit; it's one of the digs on downtown Raleigh, that Wake suburbanites wouldn't park in (horrors!) a garage, or in a parallel parking space. But the kind of tenants at Brightleaf Sq. and its neighbors? I don't think it's as much of an issue for them...

kat

Brightleaf aggressively polices the use of its parking lots for any purpose other than *immediately* shopping in their buildings. Ask the peace-protestor folks who stand out there at noon on Saturdays: I'm pretty sure they have to walk from city spaces to avoid being subjected to security guard harassment, even if they leave their protest corner and go eat or shop at a Brightleaf establishment afterward.

I find this to be particularly ironic considering how many times I've been (aggressively) panhandled in that same parking lot, with no guards in sight. And considering I know of at least one stolen vehicle that was "dropped" (after being ransacked) in that same lot one night, with no guard around to notice who left it.

I suppose the "security" they are "guarding" in those parking lots is economic security only. Too bad they aren't broad-minded enough to understand the connection between economics and social environments.

Dave S.

Kevin,

Somewhat off-topic...who currently occupies the building space off to the side of the North Brightleaf lot (Main & Gregson)? I've seen so many bars come and go from that location over the years (Playground, Rum Runners, several others).

I agree that, on the surface, it seems ridiculous that early AM Alivia's customers can't park in that lot. Besides your average customer not being up to speed on what exactly constitutes "Brightleaf", I always assumed management was most concerned about downtown workers or train/bus travelers using the lots, not patrons of adjacent businesses.

Bull City Rising

Kat: Thanks for the comments. My wife and I have had that same experience with panhandling -- only once, but it was annoying.

Dave: Ogilvy, a national ad agency, is now in that building. http://www.newsobserver.com/706/story/558555.html for details. The building has a web site -- http://www.studebakerbuilding.com/. Workers there are parking west of Gregson, north of Morgan -- over where the old bus station was torn down a few weeks back.

I too do not find the "parking for Brightleaf only" signs very illuminating -- esp. now that the city signs calls the whole area, including Alivia's/Devine's/etc., the "Brightleaf district."

GK

Kevin

I think to an extent that's true (on your last point,) with two exceptions. One, some banks may look at the whole project, including parking ratios, when providing a construction loan for upfit of a space to a tenant. And two, TS, Jr. may want the chain tenants, but just hasn't been able to get them to date. He's been leasing much of the land in the gated lot (several individual parcels) at a pretty high price for years - so he must be pretty convinced that he needs all of it.

GK

Valerie

Yeah, I realized the problem with that parking lot when I ran into Morgan Imports last year and only after discovered I couldn't have my parking pass stamped by what I thought *was* a Brightleaf vendor. Apparently this started as an argument with Fowler's? Fowler's is gone now; they should resolve the issue with remaining businesses. Anyhoo, there's a bit of parking behind (to the side of) Morgan Imports I discovered.

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