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.