Pro Park Viewpoint that PNJ didn’t print
September 5, 2006
The following was submitted to the PNJ as a Viewpoint, but space limitations didn’t allow it to run. We’ve reproduced the article below because it’s just too good to miss!
A Friday Night in Durham
By Margo Stringfield
I have just returned from spending the weekend in Durham, North Carolina, a city in the process of revitalizing its downtown core. Old tobacco warehouses are being converted into multi-use spaces for shops, restaurants, residential units, and even the public radio station. The design is pedestrian friendly and structured to connect people to the urban landscape. The jewel in the crown of Durham’s urban renewal plan is a baseball stadium.
My daughter and her friends are regulars at the minor league games in Durham and, knowing that it had been a number of years since I had attended a baseball game, had secured tickets to Friday night’s game. They assured me we were going to have a great time- they were right!
The stadium was full of people of all ages, walks of life, and ethnic backgrounds. And, while everyone was enjoying the game, that was only one part of the experience. In between innings all kinds of things were going on including a stadium sing along, mock sumo wrestling, and a children’s line dance led by the team mascot to name a few. Almost all the children I saw (and they were out in force) were wearing plastic light stick necklaces. At $2 each, all proceeds go to support local charities.
Every Friday is fireworks night so at the end of the game no one left. As the excellent fireworks show ended and the lights came back up, the announcer reminded us that one of the evening’s sponsors, a local bakery, was distributing loafs of bread at the exits. This announcement caused cheering throughout the stadium. Everyone did get a loaf of bread as they left the stadium, and the promotion was just quirky enough to be plain rib tickling funny.
We left the stadium laughing and walked across the street to a tobacco warehouse complex surrounding an architecturally stunning urban plaza. We ate sushi at outdoor tables while across the plaza others were sampling the food and beverages of the local micro brewery. Families were everywhere. We noted that a large number of people enjoying a walk through the plaza or a late dinner had also been to the ballgame- you could tell because they were carrying bread. Saturday morning I was still smiling as I sipped my coffee and hoped we would not have a county wide brown out when everyone fired up their toasters. While waiting for breakfast to pop up they were surely smiling. And, perhaps even thinking… ten years ago, who would have thought we’d be at this point in our revitalization effort?
Apparently, the people of Durham did not initially embrace the idea of a ball park, and many thought it was folly to sink any public money into a deserted urban core. It was a contentious project with strong opposition and support on both sides of the issue. It was not unreasonable for people to be leery of building a baseball stadium, restoring deserted warehouses, and creating plazas in a seemingly dead zone. What if no one came? This past weekend, seeing the urban landscape of downtown Durham alive with people and reconstruction in full throttle, it is hard to image anyone regretting the chance their city took.
I wish every one in our community could have been in downtown Durham Friday night. It would have been a glimpse into what our future might hold. Oh, and by the way, if you had been there you would know that the home team lost. You would not, however, have dwelled on that small detail as you left the stadium- you would have been too busy laughing and talking to your neighbor about whether they got white or whole wheat.