This is the letter that was sent to Weaver Street Market owners as a response to the first dance in on the Weaver Street Market lawn in protest of the "Live on the Lawn" policy adopted by both Weaver Street Market and Carr Mill Mall in Carrboro, North Carolina. For further developments on the issue which was sparked by Footlose Bruce's dancing please visit Moving with Footloose Bruce or Orangepolitics.org
To Weaver Street Market Owners,Edit
We would like to take this opportunity to report to you about Weaver Street Market’s intent and actions regarding the issue of Bruce Thomas Dancing on the Lawn. We have been in discussions with Carr Mill Mall, and have made some progress in sorting out various issues involved in community access to the lawn. We want to tell you what these issues are, and to report on some first steps we are taking to try and maximize the use of the lawn. We also want to suggest some things that those concerned about the future of the lawn can do to help the situation.
To start with, Weaver Street loves activity on the lawn, the more the better. We’re proud that the lawn has such a valued place in the community and that it is the center of so much activity. We have worked hard over the last 18 years to build the lawn into a community institution, and are committed to its future as a vibrant and active space.
However, Weaver Street does not own the lawnCarr Mill does. Weaver Street does not have the authority to grant permission to use the lawn. In fact, for every outdoor event Weaver Street sponsors, we need to request permission to use the lawn, just like anyone else.
We have spent a lot of time over the years securing permission to use the lawn not only for Weaver Street events, but also for many other community events. To name a few that will occur in the coming weeks: Sept 10 Animal Adoption and Awareness day, Sept 22 Car Free Day, and Sept 24 Carrboro Music Festival. In order to obtain permission for these events, we devote a lot of the co-op’s resources to provide staff for the events, guide people to satellite parking, pick up the trash, maintain the grounds, and more.
Weaver Street did not ask Bruce Thomas to stop dancing. We appreciate Bruce. He has been a co-worker, a loyal customer, and a friend. Carr Mill Mall, our landlord, asked Bruce to stop dancing. It is not a decision that we would have made. We had no warning it was going to happen, and we wish it hadn’t happened.
However, it did happen. By the time we became aware of the decision, it was already in the hands of the press, and the Mall manager was committed to stand by his decision. Many people publicly criticized Carr Mill, which caused Carr Mill to dig in its heels even more.
We decided to refrain from criticizing the Mall publicly, and instead decided to express our concerns directly to the Mall. Many people wonder why we made this decision. Why isn’t Weaver Street doing anything? Why are we siding with the Mall? The answer is that we aren’t siding with the Mall. We are striving for a productive resolution. Before we explain what we were trying to do, let me explain why we decided not to join the fray in criticizing the Mall.
The first reason is that we believed that publicly criticizing the Mall wouldn’t succeed in pressuring Carr Mill to reverse its decision. In fact, we believed it would have had the opposite effect by causing them to dig in its heels even more. In 15 years of dealing with these owners, they have never reversed a single decision as a result of pressure Weaver Street has exerted. Even the Carrboro Mayor pressured Carr Mill management to reverse its decision; he failed and they haven’t spoken about this since.
The second reason is that we believed that publicly criticizing the Mall would have severely strained a relationship with the Mall that in the past has been shaky, and potentially caused additional harm by having all events on the lawn canceled. We are trying to get Carr Mill to allow us to expand our store, to better meet customer needs (such as doubling the size of the café) and to address staff safety issues (such as rolling 2,000 lbs of groceries backwards down a ramp to get them in the store). We are also very concerned that Carr Mill could cancel all uses of the lawn. You may think this point is an exaggeration; however, we have been on the brink of having permission for all events withdrawn several times.
Instead of spending our energy publicly criticizing the Mall, we sat down with Mall management to look at a broad range of issues related to the lawn. How could we continue and expand the use of the lawn? How could we address the Mall’s concerns? How could we move things forward from a stalemate situation? We felt that by addressing the broader issues we would have the best chance of resolving the specific issue of Bruce’s dancing.
One thing that everyone is trying to figure out is what prompted the Mall’s decision to ask Bruce to stop dancing. What did Bruce ever do? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do understand that the Mall receives many complaints about the use of the lawn. Office tenants above Weaver Street complain about the noise. Retail tenants complain that their customers can’t find a place to park. Neighboring property owners complain about their lot filling up and start to tow cars. People get bitten by dogs. Kids climb trees. People sit on benches and get drunk. People get harassed. People drink beer on the wall at the entrance to the upstairs offices. The grass dies. The mulch gets washed into the street. Recognizing these issues (that are unrelated to Bruce’s dancing) is important to understanding the Malls decision about Bruce.
The main thing I’ve come to understand about the whole Dancing Bruce issue is that it’s not really about Bruce. From the Mall’s perspective, the issue is about how to maintain some control of the lawn in order to manage Carr Mill to the standards it holds. From what I understand about the day in question, Bruce just happened to be dancing on the wrong day when an influential visitor to the Mall complained about the state of the lawn: the grass was dead, the bushes were trampled, furniture were scattered about, kids were climbing the trees, people were drinking on a bench and, yes, Bruce was dancing. To the Mall manager, the visitor’s critique indicated that he wasn’t doing enough to manage the main entrance to the Mall’s property. So the Mall manager set about to remedy the situation, part of which involved asking Bruce not to dance.
From the point of view of the community, Dancing Bruce is a symbol of what’s good about Carrboro: the spontaneous exercise of community. If Bruce can’t dance, then we have lost what’s vital about Carrboro.
So Bruce became caught in the middle of a larger struggle. From the Mall manager’s perspective, reversing his decision about Bruce means he was giving up control of the lawnthe very control that he sees as the only tool he had to manage the most visible part of his property. From the community’s perspective, the failure to reverse the decision about Bruce means that the heart of our community is lost.
In our discussions with the Mall, we have realized the importance of acknowledging that there are other issues about the lawn besides Bruce’s dancing. To the Mall, we expressed our desire to be a good neighbor and take responsibility for the consequences that our lawn activities foster. I know some believe that recognizing the fact that our use of the lawn has consequence equates to “siding” with the mall. In my mind, it’s just a common-sense way to ensure community access to the lawn. By identifying the issues, we can reduce their impact and thereby remove them as an obstacle to the use of the lawn.
So far in our discussions with the Mall, we’ve made progress in three areas:
The first is drafting eight simple “Good Neighbor” rules about the use of the lawn. These are a combination of common sense rules (control your dog), existing legal restrictions (only drink alcohol in designated areas), and rules that respect Carr Mills ownership (no large public meetings without permission.) We plan to help the Mall publicize these Good Neighbor rules this fall.
The second is establishing a regular monthly meeting with Mall management to discuss lawn issues, so that in the future we can be involved in trying to resolve potential conflicts before they spiral out of control.
The third is establishing the “Live on the Lawn” Program. This program expands the use of the lawn to casual performers who weren’t able to use it before. I can’t count the number of people who have asked us to use the lawn to whom we have had to say “Sorry–we can’t approve your request, and there isn’t any avenue to request permission from the Mall.” Once again, Weaver Street is volunteering to do the work to make this program happen, including providing insurance, coordinating the scheduling, and cleaning-up afterwards. I publicly supported the Mall’s willingness to allow this program because I think it is a good program that meets a community need. We already have several applicants for the program.
We have not been able to convince Carr Mill to reverse its original decision about Bruce dancing on the lawn. Carr Mill is unwilling to change its mind about that. Live on the Lawn, however, creates a way for Bruce to dance again in a very limited way, and Bruce is also welcome to dance along with everyone else during Weaver Street’s regular Thursday night and Sunday morning events.
Good Neighbor rules, monthly meetings with the Mall, and the Live on the Lawn Program create an opening to build upon with Carr Mill. If the users of the lawn can demonstrate that we can be good neighbors, than the Mall will hopefully allow us to increase the duration and the frequency of lawn events, and to use the lawn for additional purposes. These three measures are a small step forward. It’s not an end point, and Weaver Street plans to continue to actively engage in discussion with Carr Mill to maximize the community’s use of the lawn.
We intentionally choose the approach of working directly with Carr Mill rather than joining the fray of public criticism and brinkmanship. We did this because we thought this strategy has the best chance of continuing and improving the community’s access to the lawn.
I know it’s not a popular approach. People would like to see us swing for a homerun, to get Carr Mill to “back down.” Instead, we tried to bunt to get on base, to get Carr Mill to discuss the issues and find a way to move forward.
Let’s talk about the strategy that we didn’t take: demanding that Carr Mill reverse its decision. Some people have advised Weaver Street to stop discussions with the Mall, and instead issue an ultimatum: Carr Mill needs to reverse its decision about Dancing Bruce or else. Or else what? Or else Weaver Street is going to move out? Or else we are going to boycott the Mall? Or else we are going to stop paying our rent? Since I’ve been at Weaver Street, I’ve gone the brinkmanship route with the Mall a few times. In one dispute we stopped paying rent. In another we called the Police to determine who controlled a piece of equipment located in the common area. We lost each disputeproperty rights in those cases, like this one, were not on our side. Those were ugly situations. I don’t want this situation to become ugly. I don’t want to see police on the lawn. I don’t want all lawn events to be canceled. I want us to work this out.
Given the context in which we find ourselves–that we don’t own the lawn, that we don’t control the lawn, and that this is a reality that’s not likely to change–I feel like trying to convince the Mall to limit its restrictions, while at the same time taking responsibility for the effects caused by the use of the lawn, is the only realistic course of action.
I would like people concerned about the future of the lawn to consider doing these four things:
1. Recognize that Bruce dancing on the lawn is really a larger issue concerning community use of the lawn. Don’t stake the entire future of the lawn on how many times Bruce can dance next week. If we can figure out the broader issue of the lawn, we can likely get Bruce dancing more.
2. Recognize the reality that Carr Mill owns the lawn. While they overreacted about Bruce’s dancing, they do have a right to put some reasonable parameters on the use of the lawn. Don’t demonize Carr Mill. They are willing to provide more access to the lawn than other shopping centers.
3. Support steps that will both extend the use of the lawn and respect the needs of Carr Mill. I’ve told you three things that Weaver Street is trying to do to in this regard. Please support these measures, and help identify other solutions that will move us forward.
4. Let us know what you think about the steps we have taken so far, and what else you think we should do, in order to maximize community use of the lawn. Send us your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruffin Slater, General Manager