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Whiteville cruisers send proposal to city

Story by: Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

After weeks of wrangling and an unofficial return of cruising to downtown Whiteville, the group supporting the old tradition is asking that the city allow cruising ion Saturday nights.

In a proposal sent to city officials Friday, Joseph Hardee of the Whiteville Cruisers asked that the city rescind the current ordinance between 6-10:30 p.m. on Saturday nights.

The city’s ordinance, passed in 2000, prohibits passing a fixed point in the downtown area three times in two hours. The ordinance was passed after downtown business owners complained of excessive noise, litter, drug and alcohol use, and violence.

Supporters of cruising walked out of a City Council meeting last month and staged a protest cruise through downtown. The group has cruised on Friday and Saturday nights since then. While a number of traffic citations have been issued, officials did not report additional problems in the downtown area. Several downtown businesses began opening on Friday and Saturday nights to support the cruisers. A parking lot on Madison Street owned by the Moskow family was also posted last week, and several vehicles towed.

In his letter to the city, Hardee said the cruisers have brought business back downtown in recent weeks, with none of the problems that led to the ban in 2000. The letter says that claims the cruisers interfered with downtown businesses have “already been proven to be false.

“The businesses that stayed open have had some of the most successful shifts they have ever had due to the amount of downtown traffic,” Hardee wrote, but did not cite specifics.

Hardee also wrote that the cruisers have been “doing a good job of self policing” to avoid problems such as noise and littering.

“In all the weeks we have been cruising, the violence rate has not gone up in this town,” he wrote. “So I don’t see this as a problem.”

Hardee reiterated his contention that cruising can be an economic engine for the downtown area.

Some city leaders think of the word “Cruising” as a negative thing,” he wrote. “So think of it like this it is a way to bring traffic to Whiteville. By bringing traffic into Whiteville you are bringing money into the area. This is something we definitely need.”

There is a bunch of storefronts downtown that sit vacant with no businesses in them. In order to bring businesses downtown you need to show them that there is a customer base. Cruising is one way to accomplish this.

Hardee said the group is not insensitive to concerns that loud music and engine noise will disturb downtown residents.

“By the way we do understand there are apartments in the downtown area that will be affected,” he wrote. “I am under the impression these are owned by a select few city officials, and business owners. We are only asking that the city give us a chance to prove that numerous businesses can benefit from this.

“When someone is elected a public position it is their responsibility to keep the people’s best interest at heart not to make their own pockets fatter,” he wrote.

Councilwoman Sara Thompson’s family owns a construction company, offices and apartments downtown. Mayor Terry Mann’s family owns a clothier, and Councilwoman Vickie Pait’s non-profit, Families First, is financed in part through a thrift store downtown. Mann and Thompson have been strong critics of cruising, while Pait has taken no stand on the practice. Councilman Tim Blackmon’s electronics repair shop and feed store are also located downtown, and Blackmon has been a staunch supporter of cruising.

Hardee wrote that the cruisers have raised money for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, cleaned the alley beside Collier’s Jewelers, and held pageants.

“We have brought people downtown, which has affected businesses in a positive way,” Hardee wrote. Now we are only asking the council to keep an open mind. Think of the positive it can bring to this town and let’s work together to make Whiteville a great place for all.”

City offices were closed Friday due to the Veterans Day holiday, and officials were not available for comment on the proposal.

 

Stuart Rogers