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Bark in the park: Collaborative efforts give dogs room to roam downtown

Man’s best friends will soon have a new local spot for taking in fresh air and stretching their legs. 

The Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association and the Durham Parks and Recreation Department have formed a novel partnership that will result in the opening of downtown’s first play space intended especially for canines. The Downtown Durham Dog Park will be located on vacant city-owned land at North Roxboro and Elliott streets. 

The site is west of Queen Street, north of the Scarborough Nursery School and across Roxboro from First Baptist Church. A community cleanup day has been scheduled for the morning of April 23; the park should open to the public by early May. 

Dragana Lassiter, 30, is pursuing a doctorate in cultural anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill. For nearly two years, she’s lived in Cleveland-Holloway with Asa, a mixed-breed male dog. 

“I think it will benefit not just Cleveland-Holloway but the whole downtown community,” Lassiter said of the new recreation space that she helped create along with a team from the neighborhood association. “Obviously we don’t have a dog park, and many people have dogs, and many people don’t have back yards.” 

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The animal playground is unusual in a few ways. Although the city owns the land and has paid roughly $5,000 to buy and install fencing around the park, the neighborhood association will be responsible for purchasing amenities such as a human/canine water fountain, a notice board and seating. (Tax-deductible donations toward these items are being collected by Keep Durham Beautiful; more than $400 has been pledged already toward a goal of roughly $2,500.) 

Cleveland-Holloway residents also must maintain the park. But more importantly, perhaps, is that the park could prove to be transitory. 

Although a final document has yet to be signed as of this writing, both the city and the neighborhood association have agreed that the park will up to two years — unless the city sells the land, in which case the park could go much sooner. 

“We may or may not have invented it. I haven’t heard of it anyplace else,”  Beth Timson, the city’s assistant director of park planning, maintenance and environmental education, said of the concept of a temporary park. 

The dog park fencing can be removed and installed at another location if need be. 

Should the park last two years without any redevelopment effort arising, the city will evaluate the arrangement and decide whether to extend it. 

“If ... there’s dogs over there having a good time, we haven’t gotten any complaints from anybody that it’s not kept up, it’s going to be — it’s going to be a success,” Timson said. 

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The park will occupy a portion of nine parcels acquired between 1967 and 1971, according to Sheila Huggins of the city’s real estate division. At one point, the land had been considered as the site for a parking garage. 

Today, they collectively cover about 1.5 acres and are valued at about $294,000, per county tax records. 

In 2007, The News & Observer reported, the city agreed to transfer the parcels to Housing for New Hope and Dominion Ministries so those organizations could build residences for disabled homeless individuals and a lockdown facility for youth with severe behavioral issues, respectively. 

Cleveland-Holloway residents successfully objected, persuading the City Council to rescind the transfers and put the property up for sale instead. (The episode helped spur the formation of the neighborhood association, according to resident Natalie Spring, who said municipal bureaucrats had rebuffed earlier community efforts to buy the property for a public garden.) Developers Scott Harmon and Susana Dancy won the auction with a bid of $198,000, but the transaction fell through. 

Cleveland-Holloway Neighborhood Association members had talked of creating a dog park over the years. The idea was revived at a meeting of residents in 2010. 

When the city manager took a walking tour of the community in July, residents broached the idea of placing a park on the site to Tom Bonfield. The manager responded enthusiastically, putting residents in touch with the city’s Parks and Recreation department. 

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Spring helped Lassiter and other community members create the dog park. By converting a large vacant lot on a heavily trafficked street to community use, she argues, the park is already a success. 

“On a very base level, anything other than a vacant abandoned lot is fantastic,” said Spring, a 31-year-old statistician who works in Duke’s development office. 

She believes community members are split on what they’d ultimately like to see the park become. Some would prefer to have a park while others hope for a mixed-use development that would bring downtown and its retail amenities closer to home, Spring said. (She herself feels that the land’s characteristics, including its slope, will severely restrict building there.) 

In the meantime, Spring and Lassiter both hope that the park will give people who live inside the downtown loop a reason to visit their neighborhood. That’s a big reason why the park’s name starts with “Downtown” rather than “Cleveland-Holloway.” 

“This might bring more people from the west end of downtown eastward,” Lassiter said. 

Although there is no charge for people to visit the park, that’s not true for the animals for whom the space is intended. The city requires pet owners to purchase a tag for each dog that visits the park. Tag applications must be accompanied by canine immunization records. 


Steve Graff

Congrats to our neighbors to the south in Cleveland-Holloway for undertaking this endeavor, and to the city for agreeing to such a partnership. I'm looking forward to bringing our pups for a visit in the near future.


When I saw the fencing going up I was thinking this was going to be a community garden but the dog park is an excellent idea as well! Congradulations to the community!


Che Kilombo is going to freak out.


Yes! This is badly needed in downtown and what a great addition to an empty lot...Although we already have Northgate Park easily accessible to Northgate park & Colonial Village residents, bringing something like this to downtown is awesome! Hope it succeeds!

Katherine J.

hoo-ray! I just made a $10 gift and it really only took 1 minute.

link is here: https://www.keepdurhambeautiful.org/kdb-forms/user/register.jsp?event=133

or you can mail a check w/ dog park in the memo line to:
Keep Durham Beautiful, 2011 Fay Street, Durham, NC 2770

Big thanks to those making this happen!

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