For weeks, the news and buzz around town have focused on homelessness and parking — or rather the lack of free parking or the fear of losing free parking.
Both situations are real, and both are concerns that warrant merit. But once the emotions have been extracted from these issues, what remains are the symptoms commonly associated with a growing and vibrant city. And, that pretty much describes Fayetteville.
We are a city in transition.
We have implemented a massive economic development plan to revitalize our downtown, including a $100 million investment that, at its center, includes a $46 million baseball stadium. Ironically, by some, it’s referred to as Fayetteville’s “Field of Dreams.”
“Build it, and they will come.” Well, sort of. And, that is what seems to be causing all the angst with downtown residents and businesses.
Let’s break it down.
First, Segra Stadium is enjoying a warm and welcoming reception by the community, posting exceptional attendance numbers since its opening in April. The initial reaction of the city and those with resources and entrepreneurial spirit was to get into the paid parking business at $10 a space. However, it wasn’t long before the law of unintended consequences had the city’s ready-fire-aim parking policy reduced to $5.
Baseball patrons, without intent or malice, continued to squeeze the life and vitality out of downtown merchants’ businesses. Adding to the perceived insult is the injury under consideration that all downtown parking, including street spaces, will convert to paid from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Ouch!
At this writing, a meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 19, at City Hall to discuss the parking situation. The mayor and City Council are eager to hear what the consulting “parking professionals” recommend as feasible downtown parking solutions. Needless to say, this should have downtown merchants rolling their eyes, as the perception seems to be the city will attempt to escape criticism by handing off the parking issue to a private company.
This is interesting because city trash collection and grass cutting were deemed inappropriate for outsourcing.
Panhandling and homelessness
How does the city humanely deal with the panhandling and homelessness situation? Local people respected and trained to deal with indigents and the homeless population have gone on record in defining the cause and effect of homelessness in our community. Basically, they say our compassion and generosity attracts and enables the homeless by allowing them squatting rights on public and private property and providing them countless meals and other resources that only allow them to enjoy the lifestyle they subscribe to.
This problem has plagued downtown for years. However, the homelessness problem has come to the forefront because of the increased activity downtown. Not only are more people noticing it, but they are noticing our city elected don’t seem to have the intestinal fortitude to deal with the problem, thus making it worse.
Downtown residents and merchants site examples like the following: A homeless man, for weeks, set up a camp on Hay Street across from City Hall in the alcove of the AIT Building. Another did the same at the public restrooms across from Freedom Memorial Park. For months, a homeless woman set up camp on a public sidewalk on a main thoroughfare into downtown Fayetteville. Another lives in her car with an adult son and two dogs parked outside the main Cumberland County Public Library. This is not a good image for a community that is trying to brand itself.
Parking and the homelessness issue downtown are now high priorities. In the short-term, it will be a little rough for the downtown merchants. However, both problems will dissipate with critical mass. Baseball fans, hotels, condominiums, apartments, offices. All of these entities contribute to a people factor.
“Build it and they will come.” Downtown Fayetteville’s economic future will depend on how well we manage our brand. Currently, downtown is emerging as a unique destination point. As it emerges, look for the parking situation and the homelessness problem to dissipate. Critical mass. That’s the answer.
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