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CRUZ-N-PARK: A NEW WAY TO DO AN OLD PASTIME

CRUZ-N-PARK: A NEW WAY TO DO AN OLD PASTIME

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The night air is chilly, but not chilly enough to keep John Powell from his Friday night ritual. He buffs his white, Chevy Z-28 with a loving touch.

Across the parking lot, tires shriek, and Powell turns his head.``Guess who?' asks his friend, Sharon Riley. She's smoking a cigarette, watching the cleaning process with half-hearted interest, offering a comment now and then.

``Mike,' Powell and a buddy answer in unison. All three of them smile. It's just past 8 and things are starting to pick up at Cruz-N-Park.

``Most people I know come here,' says Powell, 20, as he uses one hand to spray tinted windows with blue cleaning fluid and the other hand to drag a soft, white cloth across the droplets. ``It's something to do on the weekends.'

Cruz-N-Park is the brainchild of two Durham developers who hope it's the answer to the problem of teenage cruising. They'd like to turn the problem into profit, while providing peace of mind to parents and local businesses that chafe at flocks of teenagers descending on their parking lots after sundown.

At Cruz-N-Park, teenagers drive up to the gate, take a ticket, and pass under the parking-lot style arm onto a U-shaped concrete pad. They can cruise the 1/2-mile circuit and park in the open or under cover of a brightly lit aluminum structure that looks like a drive-in restaurant without the speaker boxes and waitresses.

If their cars aren't shiny enough, they can drive through one of six bays at the on-site car wash. If they're tired of the parking lot scene, they can go to the snack bar for some nachos and pizza, play a few video games, shoot some pool, or go back outside for a game of miniature golf. A batting cage, Durham's first, will be installed in April.

``I feel it's going to be really good,' says Ronnie Allen, who runs Cruz-N-Park with his partner, H.L. Riley. ``There's not even a day that goes by that parents don't call us, thanking us for taking a chance on doing something for teenagers.'

The idea of controlled cruising is not new.

A couple of years ago, Arlington, Texas, leased a huge parking lot from the University of Texas at Arlington and opened the lot, complete with portable toilets, to teenagers on Friday and Saturday nights. Thousands of cruisers pass through the parking lot every weekend.

``We've been real successful with it,' says police spokesman Dee Anderson. Arlington was driven by desperation to get into the cruising business. The city had tried writing citations and re-routing traffic before it hit upon the idea of leasing a parking lot.

``I've never heard of any private business venture wanting to attract that kind of crowd,' Anderson says.

Allen, 40, says he and his 41-year-old partner were inspired by their own teenagers and by the problems other towns were having with cruisers. Allen's daughter and two sons used to argue about where they wanted to go Friday and Saturday nights. Would they hang out at a shopping center? Go to a movie? Cruise one of the main drags? Drive to a teen dance club in Raleigh?

``They didn't really have all that many options,' Allen said.

More food for thought came on a return trip from Myrtle Beach, S.C. Just outside the town of Benson, the Allens got caught in a traffic jam. It took 45 minutes to reach Main Street. They thought there must have been a terrible car wreck.

``Came to find out all it was was teenagers cruising,' Allen says.

Meanwhile, he and Riley were reading about the problems in other towns.

In Greensboro, businesses along High Point Road were plagued by people congregating in parking lots after hours until police cracked down last summer with second-degree trespassing citations. Salisbury banned downtown cruising three years ago after complaints from merchants, non-cruising drivers and police and fire officials on emergency runs. Mount Airy, Burlington and Lexington followed suit.

``Being investors, we're always looking for ways to make money,' Allen says. ``We saw a need.'

He and Riley run Ace Crane Service and Geer Street Business Park in Durham. Allen also runs Allen Roofing Co., and both men own residential and business property.

They spent $1.5 million to develop Cruz-N-Park on 5 1/2 acres off North Hoover Road, a residential-industrial area in east Durham. A church is on one side of the park, an equipment storage lot on the other. No one has complained about the teenagers, Allen says.

So far, crowds have been in the 150-to-200-a-night range, and more people are expected when the weather warms up. Manager Perry Shiflett says students from all of Durham's five high schools have shown up, as well as teenagers from Raleigh and Creedmoor.

``It's always new faces,' says Shiflett, 25.

Raye Adcock, 20, is working on making himself a not-so-new face. The first nine days Cruz-N-Park was open, he visited eight times.

``I like it all,' says Adcock, a machinist for Research Triangle Institute. He leans on a pool cue and fiddles with the gold chain around his neck. ``You don't have to worry about no trouble.'

He's been cruising Durham's hot spots - Guess Road to the north and the area around Holloway and Junction roads to the east - since he was 16. He's seen the tension develop between cruisers and businesses, many of which have gone through the city council to get ``No stopping, standing or loitering' signs in their parking lots. The signs enable police to warn or arrest cruisers.

The police also have issued citations to cruisers for careless and reckless driving, littering and fighting, says Cpl. K.W. May of the Durham Police Department. Last summer, a teenager was shot in the chest as he hung out in Willowdale Shopping Center on Guess Road.

May's glad to see Cruz-N-Park.

``I think anything new like that is good. I mean, it's worth a try. It may just take them away from the bad environment and take them into a good environment.'

Brian Rimmer, 21 and a patron of Cruz-N-Park, thinks the business will do ``OK,' but he knows some people who aren't as confident.

``They don't think it'll stick because they won't allow no drinking or no drugs or playing loud music,' Rimmer says as he leans against a basketball-shooting game.

The park's rules are designed to keep a family atmosphere, the owners say. They admit many teenagers probably will drink or take drugs before coming in, if not try to sneak the contraband into the parking lot.

``There's just so much we have control over,' Allen says. ``We'll just do the best we can do.'

An off-duty police officer patrols the complex, and there are plans to add more officers in the spring.

Allen says he and Riley are interested in opening other Cruz-N-Park sites, perhaps in Salisbury or Benson.

``I wish them luck, but I wouldn't buy stock in it,' says Salisbury police Chief Jeff Jacobs. He says the teen centers he knows have done poorly, probably because of their rules.

Capt. B.W. Ward of the Greensboro police department says he'd be open to the idea of something like Cruz-N-Park coming to Greensboro.

``If a business opens up and invites people to ride through . . . they'd be working toward a common goal,' Ward says.

Allen and Riley are hopeful about their venture.

They'd like to attract church groups, day cares and senior citizens groups during the day to play miniature golf and use the game room where video games occasionally flash ``Winners Don't Do Drugs,' a message signed by FBI chief William Sessions.

Shiflett says senior citizens are interested in the parking lot, too.

``They come in and walk around the cruise area,' he says.

Want to cruise?

Cruz-N-Park at 715 N. Hoover Road in Durham is open 1 p.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays and 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Until March 1, there will be no charge to cruise and park in the large lot. After that, it will cost $2 an hour for non-members, $1 an hour for members. Memberships cost $20 a year.

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