What “darker side” of Dickson Street?

40/29 News’ Tiffany Stewart recently was allowed to follow the Fayetteville Police Department as officers patrolled the Dickson Street area one evening. The report aired this weekend and twice referred to a “darker side” of Dickson while showing footage of a few kids who’d had too much to drink and were being arrested for public intoxication or disorderly conduct.

To be honest, I just shook my head and nearly forgot all about it … until this afternoon. As I was skimming through some Twitter messages, I noticed that The Morning News’ Skip Descant was covering today’s Advertising and Promotion Commission discussion which was centered around the future of the Walton Arts Center. “Gazolla questions the safety of the Dickson St. area as one deciding factor when considering where to locate a new performance hall,” read the message.

He was talking about A&P chair Pat Gazzola, who also happens to be the owner of the very popular (and very delicious) Catfish Hole restaurant out on Wedington.

According to the Morning News’ offical story on today’s meeting, Gazzola’s actual quote was this:

All I know is this, there are a lot of folks who consider the (Dickson Street) area not all that safe as a place, who want to bring their families. People don’t want their families around people who have had too much to drink.

I was surprised to see the second mention in as many days regarding a possible “unsafe” atmosphere on Dickson Street since, as a musician and writer for the Flyer, I spend a good amount of time in the area and have never gotten the feeling that it was a “dark” place to be. And no, I’m not always enjoying adult beverages when I’m there. Sometimes I’m working.

As far as families are concerned, I don’t have children of my own, but even when the area is at the wildest it can possibly get before or after a Walton Arts Center performance, I still haven’t experienced anything that would make me feel like I couldn’t bring a child along with me to an event there.

I figured there’s an off-chance that I am still somehow completely oblivious to all this supposed “darkness” so I went out this evening and asked a half dozen Dickson Street bartenders and bouncers who spend more time in the area than anyone where exactly this “darker side” is located. Is it on the far east side? The west side? Is it up that creepy staircase next to 21st Amendment?

Those I asked weren’t of any help. In fact, the overall impression was that such a side does not actually exist. So I put up a poll here on the Flyer but as of 11pm, 89% of our readers also say there’s no such atmosphere on Dickson Street. The same general sentiment is echoed on our Facebook page where one business owner even seemed confused as to what era we were referring to.

I re-watched the 40/29 segment and this time, I caught an even more confusing quote from a local police officer who was speaking of the minor incidents that had been caught on camera that evening:

It creates a bad atmosphere – an unsafe atmosphere. People see that going on and they don’t feel like they can come down here and enjoy themselves

Had I caught that the first time, I’d have been a little more proactive in my curiosity. Apparently some people are confident enough about this “unsafe atmosphere” that they’re willing to talk about it on camera and bring it up in public meetings but even after 25 years of living in Fayetteville, I still don’t have a clue as to what they’re talking about.

So now what? I suppose there are plenty of more things I could do. I guess I could spend more time talking to employees and patrons or more time trying to find those who are scared of Dickson Street or more time talking to people who don’t drink alcohol but what I’m led to believe is that time is what we don’t have a lot of as far as the Walton Arts Center is concerned.

So if this “dark” and “unsafe” atmosphere on Dickson Street actually exists, we need to stop talking about it and start fixing it. But if it doesn’t, maybe we should be more responsible when describing the possible future location of one our city’s biggest and most valuable attractions. Especially right now.

So tell me, Fayetteville. Do you feel unsafe on Dickson Street? If so, now’s your chance to speak up. You’d be surprised to know who all reads the Fayetteville Flyer these days…