Ninth Street merchants now seem split on how to address parking challenges on the rapidly evolving street.
A majority of about 20 business representatives at a Ninth Street Merchants Association meeting on Tuesday supported adding a second pay station to the street’s 45-space lot.
A minority are still hoping for a return to free parking.
At a meeting last month, the merchants decided not to pursue paying the city to convert the lot from $1 per hour to free two-hour parking. The hurdles, they said, were too big. They included forming a legal entity to enter into an agreement with the city and a reluctance to choose between letting Shops at Erwin Mill customers park in the lot or towing them.
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“How were we going to enforce what we were about to spend quite a bit of money on?” said Carol Anderson, owner of clothing and accessories store Vaguely Reminiscent. “It became the sentiment in the room, that it was way too cumbersome.”
Currently the Shops at Erwin Mill – the renovated shopping center with a Harris Teeter, 13 retail and restaurant spaces and two private parking lots – has towed about 16 cars whose drivers crossed over to the east side of the street, lined with mainly independently owned small businesses.
Instead of the free parking, the merchants planned to take financial commitments that would have gone to the city and focus on marketing the street.
The discussion of free-two hour parking was revived after Phail Wynn Jr., Duke’s vice president of Durham and Regional Affairs, wrote an email to the merchants expressing the university’s interest in helping to restore free parking in the lot.
“Duke University has a continuing interest in the ongoing success and viability of historic Ninth Street,” Wynn said Thursday.
Wynn is still waiting for a response from merchants on how to move forward.
“I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a more enthusiastic response,” he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Danielle Martini-Rios, co-owner of Blue Corn Cafe, said other Duke representatives had previously approached her about helping merchants on the street. Martini-Rios told them that merchants wanted a second pay station in the 45-space lot to make the process easier and faster. Duke officials were receptive.
“I think we could get it quickly,” she said, “but we have to be at a point where we are all going to say ... it would be a paid lot.”
If the merchants have another preferred solution, Wynn said, Duke wants to be one of the partners to help them find a solution.
Also at the meeting, some supported 30 minutes of free parking for people who want to run in and pick something up. Some suggested a smart phone app to let people extend their parking time without having to return to the pay station.
“If you constantly have to be thinking about that, you are not spending the amount of time that we as merchants want you to be spend on our side of the street,” Anderson said.
Cammie Brantley, co-owner of Elmo’s Diner, said the group has enough history to know what will and won’t work.
“We need to not move backwards,” she said. “We need to move forward with a meter and an app.”
Daryn O'Shea, owner of computer repair and parts shop The Computer Cellar, led the meeting Tuesday. Afterward he said the merchants association needs to meet with Duke officials before making a final decision.
“Right now, we need to get everyone to table,” he said.
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