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Developer sheds more light on Morris St. partial two-way idea -- and hints local restaurateur plans a move there


108-morris We've written here before about the recently-discussed idea of a mid-block traffic circle of sorts on -- of all places -- Morris St. downtown, after the N&O piqued everyone's curiosity with a mention of such a device in mind for the one-block, one-way stretch.

The goal? Using a tiny rotary to allow Morris St. to be two-way from the Downtown Loop to the middle of the block, providing access to a parking lot, the Durham Arts Council and a Morris St. building that has a possibility for new life.

At Thursday night's Partners Against Crime District 5 (PAC5) meeting, representatives from the development team were present to get feedback from the community on the idea, which is looking to move from artists' renderings to full-stop approval.

The project's Wilmington-based developer says that he'd like to redevelop the 10,000 sq. ft. Greenfire-owned building at 108 Morris St. from a defunct nightclub (Cafe Blayloc) into a new restaurant, one which he says would require a heightened level of vehicular activity.

Capital Centre Development's John Fife is mum on exactly what restaurant would go there -- though after Thursday's PAC5 meeting, the project team did go so far as to say the prospective tenant would be a "local restaurateur" who was excited by the downtown dining scene and was looking to relocate into the city center. 

(A fact which, in and of itself, is sure to lead to interesting speculation on just who's poised to make the jump -- and depending on the source of such a relocation, possible interest at the neighborhood and community level, too.)

But according to the developer and their unknown client, the re-do on Morris St. is a prerequisite to bringing the project to fruition. (Image courtesy Kimley-Horn.)


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Fife appeared before a relatively quiet PAC5 meeting along with Richmond-based Ben Cummings, a partner in the development; members of his traffic engineering team at Kimley-Horn and architect Scott Harmon (also a PAC5 co-facilitator; Harmon disclosed his conflict at the meeting's outset.)

The developers noted that the idea of Morris as a two-way street was a long-settled and discarded idea. "The answer to the question would have been no if we wanted to change the traffic pattern for the entire street," Fife said, noting that would require a traffic circle at Five Points that downtown stakeholders and City officials decided years back would detract from the historic character of the intersection.

But while the sight distances don't work if you had two-way traffic as far south as Five Points, things are just fine if you allow two-way traffic only to the mid-block point.

The restaurateur needs the vehicular access to their front door that such two-way design would provide, Fife noted; that's especially true given the proposed presence of a valet parking area right in front of the building's front door.  

With a traffic circle, cars heading north or south on Morris would be able to access valet parking as well as the parking lot between the building and the Durham Arts Council, which Fife was quick to note is municipally owned and would not be proposed to be dedicated for the project. (Northbound Morris St. traffic would access the valet lane on their right as they navigated the circle; southbound traffic would essentially double-back for valet and surface lot access.)

Mind you, don't go getting any ideas about dressing up the mid-block circle in ways like the residents of Duke Park have with their Glendale and Markham roundabout.

The circle won't be very tall, since due to the angles of attack, service vehicles may actually have to drive over it in the course of their duties, though it would be just tall enough to discourage automobile access.

"We don't want people to be [standing in the traffic circle], quite honestly," noted the project's engineer from Kimley-Horn.

Fife added that the project would also have an impact on the aesthetics of Morris St., which was largely excluded from 2007's streetscape effort. 

"[The project] not only changes the traffic pattern, but adds streetscape improvements along part of the street," he said.

Developer-funded improvements along Morris would focus on the segment between Five Points and the traffic circle. The sidewalk on the east side of Morris would be deepened out into what's today part of Morris St., with the developer wanting to have enough rooms to add outdoor seating for dining along with the requisite benches and bike racks to match the rest of downtown's recently-renovated street environment.

Comment from residents on the proposal -- either for or against the idea -- were scarce. 

Former City Councilwoman Lorisa Seibel asked what impact the project would have on parking for the Durham Arts Council, which occupies the old City Hall facility and Morris and the downtown Loop. "I'm assuming it would probably help," Fife said. "Currently the plans are to valet park for both facilities," the developer added.

Melissa Muir from Downtown Durham Inc. added that the DAC liked the idea, thinking it would make it easier for drivers to get to their facility.

Lisa Miller from City/County Planning added that the Historic Preservation Commission had a chance to provide a "courtesy review" last week and had questions; the developer will bring the project before the HPC formally on February 1, 8:30am, at City Hall in the second floor Committee Room.

Which may, incidentally, just be about the last public-style hearing for the effort. 

Besides the February HPC meeting, city staffers at Thursday's PAC5 meeting said, the change to Morris would likely require only administrative sign-offs from departments like Public Works and Transportation, and that the matter likely wouldn't have a path to come before City Council.




Note that Georgios never had any sort of option or other contract to take on the space in West Village in which Durham Magazine photographed him....


Dear Greenfire,

when does the Southbank building come down and that land get re-developed more intelligently?


Yeah, that south bank building and parking lot is the worst.


ironically,word is DAC will be losing a portion of their already small parking lot due to the upcoming renovation of the (city owned) Marriott building. This will likely cut into it even more...


and what will become of the long empty primely-located storefront at the corner of Five Points? formerly Safari restaurant. where the city inspector shut the restaurant down because the (city-owned) space wasn't up to code.

Does the city still own this stretch of property? I believe they were trying to sell it since they didn't seem capable/interested in fixing it up to rent out but that was a while ago. Does anyone have news on this stretch of the block?

Nothing says welcome to Five Points like a chain and padlock over gated bars on the mitered corner of an empty run down storefront with several-year-old window stickers promoting the Durham Bulls. and a clock above that hasn't read the correct time for years.

Kevin Davis

@Stacey: I believe Scott Harmon is attached to a plan to rehab that building, though as with 108 Morris, no word on the details yet.


Does this layout strike anyone else as profoundly wierd? To have a quasi-cul-de-sac on a City street?

Is it that difficult to make the entire length two-way, or to simply have traffic go around the block if it's coming from the North? Maybe so.

I understand the need to meet the developer's needs if they have specific requirements...but this just seems a little overwrought.

Rob Gillespie

The city has decided that Morris will never be a two-way street. The main concern is that it would create a very tight right from Morris onto Main. It sort of makes sense, but it also means that we'll be stuck with at least part of the loop's architecture for the infinite future.

At a meeting regarding the downtown loop last year, multiple citizens brought up the idea of making Morris two-way. The main driving factor would be to allow the city to close Great Jones St, or at least a good section of it, so that the bus station parcel could be re-combined with other parcels and be re-developed in the future. Right now, that lot is 1.2 acres or so, but it is really long and wide. It would just be hard to build something new on it without doing something about Great Jones St first.

Sabrina L

Is it Magnolia Grill???


"It would just be hard to build something new on it without doing something about Great Jones St first."

Why do anything to close off Great Jones St, and the loop by default? Why not leave it alone and turn the whole loop into a two-way route? What is this fascination with making it harder to get around by car?

It sounds like you are another automobile- and loop-hater looking to turn downtown into a "safe" suburban neighborhood by banning or making it impossible for any traffic beyond the two-wheeled variety to make it around the city center.

Making all of Morris a two-way street would complicate the traffic signaling by creating more light-cycle delays. Closing Great Jones St. in favor of a two-way Morris (I believe this is what you are advocating) would be a nightmare for folks just trying to get to the other side of downtown.

I don't know if the proposal for the small traffic island and two-way portion would help unless the restaurant gets use of the parking lot next to the arts center. It doesn't look like it would create problems, I just don't see it as a permanent solution with all the competing interests.


it looks to me like the new traffic circle would have a tighter turning radius than a potential right turn from morris onto main...please just make morris 2 way and be done with it already, jeez louise. most folks can deal with an additional light cycle (previous company excluded of course :-)).


Restaurant is Giorgio B and Matt Kelly of Vin Rouge.


The proposed configuration makes it easier to get to South Bank as well...


I just want to be able to leave from the SouthBank parking lot in the evenings when I'm at the DAC without having to make 4 left turns to get back to Chapel Hill St. I personally think a 2-way Morris would be a wonderful thing, but that's just from one lonely Durham resident who uses the DAC on a weekly basis.


While I am happy to hear that another restaurant is interested in moving downtown, I think it would be a mistake to base the design of the permanent downtown street grid on a single private developer's request. After all, the restaurant in question is likely to close in a few years, but the streetscape will live on for decades.

One key plan regarding the downtown street pattern was the city's study last year showing a few possibilities for making the Loop 2-way. Can someone remind me how Morris Street was treated in that proposal?

Rob Gillespie

See this site:


Scott Harmon

The proposed changes to Morris Street will not take any parking spaces away from the DAC, nor will the proposed development have any monopoly on these spaces. That lot is public right of way and part of the mix of parking scattered throughout downtown that anyone can use. The Arts Council is supportive of the increased accessibility that the proposed changes will provide for their facility. Indeed these changes provide greater vehicular (and parking) accessibility to all of Five Points, not just this one development.

Just about everyone (including myself and the developer of the project) wishes Morris could simply be made two-way for its entire length. The traffic and signal challenges are too great for the transportation department to support the idea (it's not just a right-hand turn issue). This debate was hashed out seriously when the original streetscape improvements were designed, and it was decided by the community that the historic "X" configuration of Five Points was preferred to a new round-a-bout at Five Points (which is what traffic engineers say would be necessary for Morris to be two way its entire length). That ship sailed many years ago. The proposal on the table now gets us as close as we can to the ideal.

The larger question of the loop is not affected by this project. Personally, I vote for Great Jones to be returned to a ninety-degree intersection with Morgan (eradicating the bus shack, conveniently) as part of the two-way conversion of the loop. Good vehicular access, directional clarity, and safer pedestrian crossings (and it's the original configuration of that intersection, which was just fine for a bustling downtown). In the meantime, let's help the City do something cool (and temporary) with the shack.

Lastly, just confirming that I'm still the selected bidder for the city-owned properties at Five Points. The details of purchasing a city-owned parcel are tedious and take time, but the project is moving forward. I have a number of partners joining me as owner-occupants who will put their small, independently-owned businesses in each of the spaces. You'll be proud when we're done, I promise.


it's an urban environment, restaurants cannot expect front door parking - much of the charm is having people on the sidewalks! I see nothing about this prospect that brings enhancement for pedestrians. It's a disappointment that downtown can so readily be turned into being more about the convenience of vehicles.


My initial response when hearing this was...Huuuhhh!!!! After seeing the design, it makes sense to a certain degree. It improves access but does not speed traffic and maintains the current pedestrian environment. Not that bad...especially with the developer footing the bill.

Erik Landfried

I'm REALLY trying to buy into this idea, but I'm not sure this ultimately makes a lot of sense. It just feels really awkward - is there an example of this somewhere else? If so, has it been successful?

I also see two potential pedestrian issues - first, on the west side of the roundabout, it looks like some of the sidewalk would actually be removed (check out how narrow it gets at the roundabout). I don't know what the width will be (3-5 feet?), but I'm not sure how ped-friendly it will be to walk along a narrow sidewalk right next to a roundabout (especially one that will be so difficult for service vehicles to navigate they will likely have to swing out wide to try to avoid the roundabout itself). Seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

Second ped issue - on the east side of the roundabout, pedestrians would have to alter their path to use the crosswalk across the parking lot. Ideally, pedestrians should be allowed to walk in a straight line across driveways. My fear is that people will take the shortest path, which puts them in the road and in danger of being hit by a car (although the cars wouldn't be going very fast at that point).

I understand what the developer is trying to do here and I'm impressed that they've gone to this length to come up with an innovative approach to the unfortunate fact that Morris St. is one-way. But even if some of these potential pedestrian issues can be resolved, I think Toby's concern is the one I'm struggling with the most: would it be a mistake to base the design of the permanent downtown street grid on a single private developer's request?

This just feels like one of those times where an idea looks good on paper and then ten years from now we're all arguing about how to fix it.


It's interesting that people are fearful this will have a negative impact on pedestrian traffic. If anything this will have a totally opposite affect. A successful service business like a restaurant will only increase pedestrian traffic along that corridor.

A restaurant is exactly what should go in that space. It's huge and I can't think of another type of business that could afford and need that much ground-level square footage.

That building has been empty for quite a while. If this change is what's needed to get some more life into that section of downtown then so-be-it. And IF we have to reevaluate it in a decade then it certainly won't be the first nor last time.

Scott Harmon

There's an enormous desire to have Morris be two-way, so to portray this as a developer "getting his way" by changing a downtown street is really missing the history and context of this debate. The Arts Council struggles to provide clear directions to their visitors on how to get to their facility, and have given their complete support to this project.

Round-a-bouts are one of the most ubiquitous design strategies in dense urban environments to manage a complex flow of vehicles in a way that gives both vehicles AND pedestrians predictability and safety. Anyone who has traveled other parts of the world has seen them extensively. We're only just now catching on to their benefit in this country.

The center of the round-a-bout is "mountable" specifically so that service vehicles can make a direct turn into the parking lot, thereby navigating the tight turning radius.

And all the comments above with concern for the pedestrian experience are ignoring the most obvious feature of the design, which is a 125% increase in the width of the sidewalk on the west side of these buildings. That area will be full of people, eating at tables, walking and enjoying downtown. Also, the current 3-lane wide Morris Street encourages speed because of its width. Throttling that north-bound lane down will slow traffic and increase safety.

Erik Landfried

@Scott - I'm not ignoring the additional width along the side of the buildings and indeed think that's the best feature of the plan. I should have stated that up front. If it were up to me, I would close the access of Morris St. from Five Points altogether, but I know that is probably not possible until the Downtown Loop is two-way.

But it does not change the fact that the SouthBank side of the street would have its sidewalk narrowed and the "building" side would force a strange interaction at the parking lot.

So yes, the pedestrian environment would improve in one aspect, but not in another. I'm just wondering if there is a scenario where, at the very least, the existing sidewalk width could be maintained through the entire block.

Also, I'm all for roundabouts, but I've never seen one mid-block like this before (on a normal city block) - if there are examples out there that have been successful, I think it would be helpful to show those.

Scott Harmon

@Erik - I understand now what you were saying. It may not be obvious in the attached graphic, but the Southbank owners are contributing right-of-way on their side of the street to make sure the sidewalk maintains a certain width all the way through the design, especially at the round-a-bout. The right-of-way dedication will the last (and necessary) step in the process after the engineering drawings are finalized.

Eric Heidt

Isn't this more of a cul-de-sac than a roundabout? I think roundabounts that Scott sees in Massachusetts or France generally replace lighted intersections, and allow changing directions without stopping. I cannot recall seeing a street configured like this on any urban street, anywhere.

Can you imagine how supremely irritating it would be for someone not intimately familiar with Durham to take a left from the Loop onto Morris, with the expectation of getting to Five Points, only to hit this cul-de-sac and get routed back to the Loop?

I do appreciate the difficulties at this site, and do not mean to belittle the hard work people have put into this. That said, I think doing confusing and complicated piecemeal tweaks like this, rather than a comprehensive re-working (including Scott's 90-degree great Jones) is a mistake. Just one person's opinion.


Two things:

1) I noticed another intriguing detail on the schematic plan proposed for Morris St. Perhaps Scott or someone else familiar with the proposal could explain the presence of the words "Valet Lane" in what otherwise appears to be street parking along the east side of Morris. The implication is that there would no longer be parking spaces on that side of the street, but instead a place to pull up and hop out of your car, presumably to have it parked somewhere else by an employee of the new restaurant. Doesn't that mean we'd lose several downtown street parking spaces?

2) A better way to plan the next step for Morris St would be to envision what we will do with it when (not if, but when) "The Loop" is made 2-way. Mid-block traffic circle? Closure before Five Points? If the developer will take the time to show how this will fit into a long-range plan for the area, I will support it with more confidence. And I think others will too.


I'm amazed anything gets done in this city with all the nitpickers and naysayers putting in their two-cent's worth every single time someone wants to build something. These plans don't happen in a vacuum or proposals put forth at the last minute. Developing a site takes time and thousands of dollars in planning and research by experts in their field, including dismissing the unworkable idea of making Morris street two-way from Five Points without a traffic circle replacing the lights. It would add 33% more time at the entire intersection, as lights would have to be timed to a third "leg" cycle for cars moving into the intersection from Morris to take a left on Main, etc. Armchair quarterbacking by people that haven't studied the alternatives, or who don't have a background in engineering just wastes time and costs money to get back the original conclusion. Furthermore, it looks to me there are way too many folks representing a TINY minority of a minority that spends its time dreaming up charettes in their own narrow, impractical vision--who themselves don't think things through as much as they believe.

All I see here are two main stakeholders, the Arts Council and the restaurateur, who have done significant studies and know their customers, come up with a plan that works for them without changing the existing through-traffic pattern from Five Points to create more problems and confusion.

Who cares if half a dozen parking spaces are replaced by a valet lane in exchange for outdoor seating and an environment more inviting to people as opposed to cars? Can't walk around tables on a curved sidewalk?? Come on!

BTW, I do like the proposal for a 2-way loop at 90 degrees at Great Jones. It would open up the Southbank parcel more, doesn't retard traffic by adding another light cycle, and makes it easier for pedestrians and future developers to build on a square lot. With the loop two-way it also negates the needs the need for Morris to be the same. You miss the turn in to the Arts Council lot, you just go ONE small block around Southbank or the Civic Center in either direction! Problem solved.

Kevin Davis

Whoops... a correction to the HPC meeting. The next HPC committee meeting is actually February *1* (not 21 as originally stated); 8:30am, Committee Room, City Hall downtown.

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