Finding a way to deal with parking problems in downtown Pinehurst has flummoxed village officials and business owners for nearly a decade.
The thorny issue resurfaced again last week during a discussion by the Village Council to brainstorm more ways to help downtown businesses.
Past efforts to deal with the problems have seen little or no success. Plans for a parking deck near downtown were shelved nearly seven years ago.
The village has $200,000 in its budget to acquire land for parking, but a site has yet to be identified.
With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking financial havoc on the local hospitality industry during what would normally be the busiest time of the tourism season, village leaders have sought ways to help its businesses.
Restaurants and bars were shut down in March for dine-in service, but eating establishments were allowed to remain open for takeout and delivery. When the state allowed restaurants to resume dine-in service May 20, they could only be at 50 percent capacity.
Even after reopening, restaurants found that some customers were reluctant customers or that they had insufficient space inside to accommodate enough patrons to make it work financially.
Alan Riley, owner of Dugan’s Pub, approached village leaders with the idea of allowing temporary outdoor seating on the sidewalk and parking spaces adjacent to downtown restaurants.
The council adopted a measure June 9 allowing restaurants to do just that from 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, which has been well-received.
“We’ve done a good thing opening up the street dining,” Mayor John Strickland at the outset of the discussion during a June 22 work session. “It certainly was appreciated by the restaurants that are participating. I think it is working very well.”
Strickland viewed that move as the first part of a plan to help its local businesses. Now the focus will be on retail shops in the village center.
He said some of the shop owners were among those who emailed him to express support for outdoor seating for restaurants even though it might cause some disruptions temporarily.
“I think the shops that stay open are benefiting,” said council member Kevin Drum, who owns the Drum and Quill in the village center. “I think there is a symbiotic relationship.”
Drum said that as much as he appreciated what the village has done to help his industry, he hopes something can be done to help retailers who have also been hurt financially by the pandemic.
Strickland floated the idea of designating a certain number of parking spaces in front of retail shops for their customers on a trial basis, as was done for the restaurants.
Over the years, the village has received complaints about the scarcity of spaces downtown. The main culprit, many have asserted, are business owners and their employees taking up prime spaces in front of their shops.
“I don’t know what the solution is,” council member Judy Davis said.
Strickland said it would require working with tenants of the second floors of downtown buildings and “especially” the real estate offices, “which I suspect are the largest violators” in terms of taking up space meant for customers.
“It’s going to take a little persuasion,” he said. “It won’t be perfect.”
Davis said the village had signs made to designate the areas for outdoor seating for restaurants. She asked why the same thing could not be done for retailers that would designate spaces in front of their shops for their customers to park.
Village Manager Jeff Sanborn said enforcing it would be problematic. He added that he would “not be keen on dedicating” police resources to enforce it.
“We can work on that,” Davis responded. “That can be a not-so-subtle way of sending a message that we are trying to dedicate spaces.”
Strickland told Sanborn that he does not want to involve police in enforcing it either. He prefers a more personal approach of talking with shop owners and merchants, something council members could do, to help make it work.
“I love this idea,” Drum said of customer-only parking, though he acknowledged enforcement would be difficult. “But if people are on the honor system in the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish, maybe we will get some good out of it.
Drum said one way to address the problem of employees of downtown shops and restaurants would be for the building owners to include language in their leases requiring that they park in the sand lot by the Village Green. He said he has taken a “hard line” and fired a couple of employees who repeatedly parked in spaces meant for customers of downtown shops.
“I think others need to have a hard line,” Strickland responded, adding that employees could also park in the village lot next to the Pine Crest Inn as well.
Sanborn asked if retailers would be interested in the possibility of having some type of sidewalk sale to help attract more customers.
“I think it is a mixed view,” Strickland responded.
But Drum liked the idea.
“I want to go big and let everyone use this to make this an incredible Saturday experience,” Drum said, adding that doing something on Saturdays could coincide with the farmers market in Tufts Park, which also brings people downtown. “What a great place to go on a Saturday with the farmers market going and shop owners outside. Saturdays could be kind of epic down there. It’s really cool there.”
For now, Strickland said the first thing would be to work with Assistant Village Manager Jeff Batton to identify streets where spaces could be designated for retail shops.
“That would be the best way forward on a trial basis,” he said.
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.