DURHAM — Duke University freshmen will have a little more money to burn this fall.
The university plans to give each first-year student $50 to spend at eateries on or near Ninth Street.
With at least 1,600 freshmen expected, the tab will be nearly $80,000.
"We're very interested in finding ways to introduce our students to the broader Durham community," said Kemel Dawkins, the school's vice president for campus services. "We're also interested in doing things to support the businesses on the Duke borders."
Freshmen, typically housed on East Campus, will not have far to walk to use the electronic cards.
Most of the 19 restaurants invited to participate in the pilot "Duke Dining/ Durham Dollars" program are a short walk beyond the waist-high stone wall rimming the freshman campus.
Some of the restaurant managers only found out about the invitations this week and had not decided whether to participate.
For much of the past year, Durham neighborhood advocates have tried to persuade Duke to make it possible for their students to use their meal cards at Ninth Street businesses.
Administrators said the test program will give them information that could help them decide whether to make such an option available long-term.
For years, there has been an effort to get Duke students more involved with the community beyond the campus.
Last year, the university took all first-year students for a night out at a Durham Bulls game and the American Tobacco complex, one of the city's new hot spots.
Administrators hoped more mingling in the broader Bull City might make students think twice about boisterous late-night parties that disrupt neighborhoods near campus.
Students will not be able to use the $50 cards to buy booze, Dawkins said.
If most of the restaurants invited choose to participate, students could get a lot of pizza and bagels, sit down for Indian fare or have two nice meals at the upscale Vin Rouge.
John Schelp, a neighborhood activist who has been lobbying Duke to expand its electronic card program to all local Durham businesses, was disappointed.
"We've been asking Duke since last fall to expand the Duke Card to all local businesses -- Brightleaf Square, the downtown, West End and Northgate Mall," Schelp said. "We received assurances from university officials that they were going to do this. This is not expanding the Duke Card. This is a crumb."
Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.