Commentary

Remember When?

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(Staff Photo: Richard Davis) Bruce Walker, owner and operator of Flying Possum Leather, has been on Dickson Street for 34 years.

Parking: Past, Present and Future

Editor’s Note: Bruce Walker is the owner and operator of Flying Possum Leather on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. As one of the senior members among business owners on the street, this is Bruce’s take — with minimal editing — on pay parking in the Entertainment District.

By Bruce Walker

TFW Contributor Commentary

My name is Bruce Walker. I have been in my shop since 1976 and am now the second oldest business on Dickson Street for original owners.
In 34 years, I have seen a lot of change, recession and renaissance of Dickson Street. Jose’s was the Minute Man. The Walton Arts Center was not there.
Short parking availability has been a long time topic on Dickson Street. The city of Fayetteville paid for the Walton Arts Center parking lot.
Recently, “the powers that be” ignited our new parking plan. The following week, I went to Mayor Jordan’s office and asked if the mayor was in. I was told “No, he will be out for the rest of the day. What did you want to speak with him about?” I said, “This parking fiasco.”
By the time I got back to my shop, Mayor Jordan called me. When I answered, he said abruptly, “Yeah, what did you want?” I said, “I need a meeting to talk with you about this parking fiasco.” He said that he would have to get his secretary to set up a meeting and give me a call, and he hung up. I didn’t get a call.
The next week, I went back. When I asked if the mayor was in, I was told that he was, but that he was right in the middle of something, when out of the back came the mayor. He walked past me and out into the hall. He didn’t look at me, and he didn’t speak.
Thinking that he was right in the middle of something, I slipped out into the hall to leave. At that point he turned and said, “You wanted to talk to me?” I said, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.” He said, “What do you want to talk about?” Again, I said “This parking fiasco.” He said, “Come on in here.”
In his office, I introduced myself. He told me he knew who I was. The “grand scheme” of the parking is parallel to what the Enhancement Project did to business on Dickson Street. I told him that this is bad advertising for Fayetteville as a whole, that they had really opened up a “can of worms.” Who likes it? In the midst of trying to revive commercial business on Dickson Street, this is killing the retail and restaurants. Merchants are leaving. One of my neighbors said, “The heck with Dickson Street, we’re moving.”
His response was “Well, I guess they’ll just have to move.” I thought that was a great response from “The Guardian of the People.”
He told me that he and his parking board came up with this plan. He told me it got unanimous approval from the city board.
He also told me that he had meetings with Dickson Street merchants before this happened. I told him that I never heard about any such meetings. He apologized, saying “Oh, that was my fault. I should have called you.”
He told me that two of the merchants involved backed out before the plan was initiated. He failed to tell me why. I should have asked. I later found out those reasons. At the end of our conversation, I shook my head and said, “Well, thanks for your time.” I left.
Parking across the street from the mayor’s office is 25 cents for one hour and 40 minutes. It took all of 20 seconds to park and put my money in the meter.
Parking on Dickson Street is $1 an hour from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. with no register to show if that space has already been paid. First offense is $10, second is $15 and third is $25. Citations may be made up to three times per day, once per time period as defined in Chapter 72 Parking Meter Rates and Times.
I have heard this referred to as unmitigated greed and financial suicide.
Handicap parking is minimal. Isn’t it convenient that we have our great handicap access but no place to park?
At a meeting with merchants, the mayor and his parking people, the room was packed. Many people asked questions and expressed their feelings. I asked, “What did you do with the parking meters? Did you throw them away? They’re in a shed somewhere.” The response from the front of the room was “What parking meters?”
At a city board meeting after that, once again the room was packed with people expressing their displeasure. The mayor needs to take a walk down Dickson Street in the afternoon to see what it has done.
There is much aggravation and confusion. Recently I saw two nicely dressed elderly women at the parking space out my front door. I could see their confusion and stepped out to ask if they had it figured out (It’s only an eight-step process).
I was surprised at their reply. One of them said, “No, we don’t. This is bullshit. It’s hotter than hell out here. What are you supposed to do if it’s raining or snowing?” I then suggested that maybe I could help them. The other one said, “No, we just came to get some ice cream, and we’re leaving and not coming back.” That was great hearing that right out my front door.
Another of my customers that I was fitting Birkenstocks on told me to “Hurry up. I’ve only got three minutes left. If this wasn’t the only place to buy Birkenstocks, I wouldn’t even come down here.”
Another comment was, “This is ridiculous. The mayor is my neighbor, and I’m going to speak with him about this.”
The Entertainment District parking information says “Convenience is priority!” In that information, Step 6 says “Proceed to your vehicle with your ticket; you will have 20 minutes to exit the lot.” When speaking with a state senator, he told me that after attending an event at the Walton Arts Center, it took more than an hour to get out of the parking lot due to the meter confusion. He said it was ridiculous.
One night I slipped out my front door and one of our former police chiefs was sitting on the bench out front. We spoke, and he asked me how this parking situation was affecting me. I told him it was killing everyone.
He said, “Bruce, you just don’t get a break. They had the Enhancement Project and now this.” Another former chief told Neal (Crawford of Jose’s) that they weren’t coming back. That is a crying shame.
I spoke with two part-time employees about their parking cost. They calculated out of their pockets $1,040 a year each for parking fees.
Nelson at Jose’s said, “This is killing me.” Before the parking plan, Jose’s would be packed. That has changed.
Sunrise Cafe has had to close Monday through Wednesday due to an incredible slump in traffic. Tony (Catroppa) said “Is it possible the city wants to do away with the Entertainment District?”
I spoke with a local teacher who told me 10 out of 60 coworkers invited to Ferrell’s for her birthday showed up. The rest didn’t want to deal with parking. No one likes it. Who likes it?
Our parking spaces that used to be bustling with activity for most of the week are virtually empty. How is this good for the cash flow? It’s not. The parking lot fever is raging: the bookstore, the bank, residential streets, booting, $100 fine towing.
The agreement before the two merchants backed out:
1) Affordability — $1 is too much. It should be the same as on the square.
2) Parking time — same as on the square
3) Way finding signage — there is none except at the pay stations
4) Comprehensive ad campaign — saying what the money was for
These features were deleted at the last days before ignition.
The cost of the parking plan was more than $800,000 plus employee costs per year and three Smart Cars. Smart Cars retail in the vicinity of $15,000. Where were they purchased? Fayetteville? Tulsa? Tulsa.

Bruce Walker keeps a framed photograph of former Jose's proprieter Joe Fennel. Walker points out the parking meter Fennel is leaning on — a look at how pay parking was handled on Dickson Street in the past.

Neal found 1,800 parking meters on the Internet for $50,000 in only a matter of minutes.
In design, there is a feature called reverse engineering. After initial design, it is determined what works and what needs to be changed. It’s high time for reverse engineering.
What’s happened to the “ville” in Fayetteville? As one of my customers said, “If Mayor Coody had been here, this never would have happened.”
If you have any questions, suggestions or regrets, please contact your local politicians.
This is embarrassing. I’ve gotten phone calls from Oklahoma, Memphis, southern Arkansas, asking “Bruce, what are they trying to do to you?” As one of the employees at the bank said “What are they trying to do? Turn Dickson Street into a ghost town.”
As someone said on their Facebook page, “If it’s not right, don’t do it. If it’s not true, don’t say it.”
The next city board meeting to discuss this issue is Tuesday, Dec. 7. Be there. Please make your voice heard. And a “Merry Christmas” to all. Thank you. Sincerely, Bruce D. Walker.

5 Comments

Laurie December 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I’d love to see more interviews/commentary like this from other merchants.

I just don’t get it. I don’t mind paying a couple extra dollars when I’m on Dickson for a show or a night out, and I’ve never waited more than 10 min. to get out of the lot. Maybe I’m just lucky.

Reply to this comment
Angie D. December 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm

My heart goes out to the local businesses.

I have to agree that the current system is so confusing. I have witnessed people trying to pay at the exit gate at the WAC parking lot because they just didn’t know where to go.

Last night we had dinner at Emelia’s (sadly one of few occupied tables) and I parked behind Bordino’s. I almost gave up on finding a pay station. Thank goodness I was with my Mom…she never would have found it on her own.

Then, the payment process is unbearably SLOW. This is going to be fun in the rain or snow.

The only positive is that I can pay with a credit card, because I don’t carry cash or change with me EVER.

All of this said, I’m going down to Dickson for dinner again tonight because I SUPPORT LOCAL.

Oh yeah, and I need some new Birks too. See you soon, Bruce!

Reply to this comment
John Contini December 6, 2010 at 1:41 pm

It sure sounds like that City Management (including the Mayor’s office)is doing a woeful job of keeping the communication lines open between the government and the people.

Without those open lines of communications, there will always be fiascos like this.

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