At 9 a.m. this morning, look for a crowd to gather at the block bounded by Foster, Corporation, Morris and Geer Streets, as the venerable old Durham Athletic Park project breaks ground. Local residents as well as the media are invited to see Mayor Bell, city manager Patrick Baker, and Minor League Baseball CEO Pat O'Conner turn shovels with NCCU chancellor Charlie Nelms and Capitol Broadcasting head Jim Goodmon.
Retired from use by the Durham Bulls since 1994, the park has continued in a new life as the home for events like the Bull Durham Blues Festival, World Beer Festival, and as a ballpark for Durham School of the Arts. But the ballpark has been showing its years of late, with peeling paint and outdated facilities limiting the attractiveness and usefulness of one of Durham's true historic places.
In 2005, Durham voters approved a $4 million bond issue to renovate the DAP; the City brought in Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse to evaluate the park and to understand its future uses. At the same time, Durham worked to strike up a partnership with Minor League Baseball, which was interested in using the DAP as a training ground for umpires, groundskeepers, park managers and other staff.
The result? The DAP's renovation (since pegged at $5 million -- the remaining $1 million coming from interest earned on unspent bond funds) would allow the park to maintain its existing uses, as well as to become the home for NCCU's college baseball team,with MiLB operating the park under a contract with the City.
Incidentally, Barry Jacobs (chair of the Orange County Commission, and a rabid sports fan) has written quite possibly the best account I've seen of the DAP's renaissance over at wral.com. It's a must-read if you're interested in the project.
One catch in the project: the new DAP won't be looking dapper in time for this year's usual slate of fall events. Initially, the work had been scheduled to be underway already and to wrap up in time for this autumn's typical users. The current date for completion, though, is December 2008.
The Bull Durham Blues Festival, a fundraiser for the Hayti Heritage Center, has already announced it will hold this year's event in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park over by American Tobacco.
We can imagine that will be quite a hardship for the festival. After all, they'll have to endure having parking garages right on site; restaurants in walking distance; fully-outfitted concession stands; and, oh yeah, a much larger venue.
When you put it that way -- I wonder whether the blues festival might not just want to stay over at the DBAP? It's certainly a good venue for this sort of event.
Not, of course, that the DAP isn't, and there's a magic and charm in its history that continue to make it a little piece of Durham that's well worth saving.