An offer by Duke University could reignite Ninth Street merchants’ efforts to revert a 45-space lot to free parking.
Phail Wynn Jr., Duke’s vice president of Durham and Regional Affairs, wrote in a Monday email to merchants that the university is interested in working with business owners and the city to restore the lot to free parking. More than a year ago, the city started charging $1 per hour to park in the lot that for years offered free parking. Fees apply 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“Our preferred solution is one in which all three parties would make financial contributions, either directly or in the form of concessions,” Wynn wrote. “Duke would be willing to match the amount the Ninth Street Merchants could contribute toward the $46,000 annual payment the city is seeking.”
Wynn, who was out of town and couldn’t comment before The Durham News’ deadline, asked the merchants to let him know, and he would discuss the issue with City Manager Tom Bonfield.
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Earlier this year, Ninth Street business owners discussed reverting the lot to free two-hour parking to address a drop in traffic and revenues for some businesses on the east side of the street.
The discussion came as the dynamics of the street shifted with the redevelopment of the Shops at Erwin Mill on the west side of the street last fall.
The development includes 13 retail spaces, a privately owned 348-space parking lot near a new 24-hour Harris Teeter and another lot with 41 spaces in a section closer to Main Street.
For about 25 years, the city leased the lot in exchange for waiving the then owner's lighting costs and property taxes, about $3,000 a year, and allowed public parking at no charge.
When the lot changed hands in 2012, the new owner, CPGPI Regency Erwin, which owns the Shops at Erwin Mill, and the city worked out a deal in which the city pays $82,500 a year for use of the lot. Lot fees were to cover about $46,000 and parking tickets would pay for the rest.
Mark Ahrendsen, the city's transportation director, said the city would need a commitment of about $46,000 annually for the Ninth Street merchants’ proposal to move forward. Any proposal less than that amount would require the City Council's consent.
During the discussion, Ninth Street business owners had committed about $2,200 a month, which would translate into about $26,400 a year, merchants said. While the money fell short of the $46,000, it was more than the about $7,000 in lot fees that the city collected in the first year of the fee, merchants said.
Last month, however, Ninth Street business owners dropped their effort to sublease the parking lot. Some business owners said they were concerned that the Shops at Erwin Mill, which started towing parkers not shopping in its center earlier this year, would continue that practice. Business owners on the east side of the street said if they leased the lot they would either have to let people shopping at the Shops at Erwin Mill park in their lot or start towing, which they didn’t want to do.
Instead they planned to put up a sign in the lot letting people know that some merchants will reimburse their customers for parking fees and use the committed funds to market the street.
On Thursday, Ninth Street merchants had mixed responses to Duke’s offer.
Carol Anderson, owner of clothing, accessories and gift store Vaguely Reminiscent, said the offer could reignite the effort. Merchants plan to meet Tuesday, she said.
“It certainly will be on the agenda to be discussed,” she said.
Michael Bell, owner of Hunky Dory, a record and smoke shop which is down $39,000 in revenue compared to the same time last year, said he is in favor of taking advantage of Duke’s offer.
“This is beyond a gift,” Bell said. “I just don’t see why” they wouldn’t take advantage of such an offer.
However, Daryn O’Shea, owner of computer repair and parts shop The Computer Cellar, said he thinks merchants should move forward with their current plan to market the area. O’Shea said he still has concerns about people who are shopping.
“There are just way too many factors beyond our control,” O’Shea said.