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May 2011

April 2011

If it's spring, it's neighborhood home tour season: Golden Belt, Duke Park, Cleveland-Holloway gear up

Two of east-central Durham's revitalizing neighborhood areas are throwing their figurative and literal doors open for home tours in the coming weeks, while a third central Durham neighborhood will be the focal point for one of Preservation Durham's biggest annual fundraisers.

Five or six years ago, the Cleveland-Holloway and Golden Belt neighborhoods didn't have home tours, and weren't even widely recognizable names; for that matter, Golden Belt then referred to a deserted factory complex, not an arts-themed residential, office and studio complex.

Now both are planning home tours; for Golden Belt, it'll be its first such confab, while this is the fourth year for Cleveland-Holloway.  (Golden Belt's near neighbor, the Old East Durham area, has also been holding home tours for a few years now.)

Golden Belt's tour is set for tomorrow, Sunday, May 1 from 1pm to 5pm.  Eight properties are on the tour, ranging from completely-restored houses to homes available for sale and their own transformation, to a loft apartment in the onetime Golden Belt factory itself. The neighborhood is calling it a "Before and After" tour, given the range of complete and incomplete properties available for a look-see.

Continue reading "If it's spring, it's neighborhood home tour season: Golden Belt, Duke Park, Cleveland-Holloway gear up" »

Expanded exercise-oriented event promotes pedestrians and pedalers

A coalition of local officials and community organizers are collaborating to get Durhamites moving in a safe, family-friendly environment. 

Bull-city-open-streets Their initiative, introduced last year as a one-off event called Bull City Summer Streets, is expanding this year under the new moniker of Bull City Open Streets. This Sunday, and on three other occasions, organizers will close some Durham streets to automobile traffic so bicyclists and pedestrians can enjoy fresh air and exercise without safety concerns. 

Robin Michler is a UNC-trained transportation planner who works as a transit education specialist for Clean Energy Durham. His predecessor, Jessalee Landfried, was a key planner of Summer Streets, which drew more than 1,000 people last May. 

“The pilot event in 2010 was such a success that I wanted to try to help institutionalize the event in Durham ... to help make biking and walking part of the city’s consciousness,” Michler said. 

The event is modeled after the weekly ciclovía that apparently originated in Bogotá. Each Sunday, the Colombian capital bars automobiles from more than 70 miles of streets, freeing the pavement for walkers, runners and bicyclists. Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, a Duke graduate, helped promote pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly policies in the city. 

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Getting ready for the Roxy: Proprietor aims to bring Chicago glam to Brightleaf

Author’s note: This article was updated about five hours after it was first posted to provide the correct last name for Bobbi Kirkpatrick, the Satisfaction assistant general manager who is to be the Roxy’s general manager. Please see this comment for further details. 


The owner of Satisfaction is working to convert a nearby bar known for its blue-collar vibe into a club for young professionals. 

Staton Ellis, who bought Satisfaction seven years ago, recently signed a lease for the old Down Under Pub space at 802 W. Main St. He plans to open his new venture next month as soon as redecorating is complete and his alcohol sales permit is secured. 

The establishment will be a nonsmoking private club known as the Roxy. Ellis envisions a quiet lounge for young professionals to enjoy conversation, craft beers and a unique selection of fine wines. 

Because the building’s kitchen area is so small and Ellis wants to wipe away most traces of the Down Under, the only food he intends to offer at the Roxy will be prepared across the street in Satisfaction’s kitchen. Staff will deliver orders to Roxy patrons. 

“I’m real excited about it,” Ellis said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we’re going to offer a good product to people. This is a totally new type of venture for me — no food; I’m a restaurant guy first and foremost. These are uncharted waters for me, but I think we’ll figure it out as we go along.” 

The decor should call to mind a plush 1920s hangout for Chicago gangsters, Ellis said. He plans to institute at least a minimal dress code -- intended, it sounds, to create a professionals-only environment that would be significantly more 'exclusive' than the Roxy's predecessor. 

Continue reading "Getting ready for the Roxy: Proprietor aims to bring Chicago glam to Brightleaf" »

RDU unveils Terminal 1 redesign: Terminal 2, meet your Mini-Me version

You know that TV commercial from a few years ago for Apple, where NBA star Yao Ming and diminutive little person actor Vern Troyer are yukking it up next to each other in airline seats?

Somehow, that was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw the just-unveiled conceptuals for the reboot of Raleigh-Durham International Airport's Terminal 1.


The long-suffering powder-blue corrugated aluminum warehouse, er, airside is planned for a $60 million and change renovation starting in 2012, meant to finally exorcise the demons of the Eisenhower-era original brick bunker to the terminal's north and to give the Reagan-era southern portion of the facility a spiffed-up interior, not to mention improved baggage handling systems and the like.

A recent RDU Airport Authority public meeting saw the presentation of initial terminal concepts to the board. And -- there's that Vern Troyer reference again -- the best way to describe it is as a Mini-Me version of Terminal 2.

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Blackstone announces major grant initiative to support new businesses

Some of the most prominent figures in the Triangle and the state joined forces Monday morning for the announcement of a new type of entrepreneurial incubator

The launch of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, held in Bay 7 of American Tobacco Campus, drew around 300 attendees. The network, described as the first regional integrated initiative, is being funded by a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. 

Steve Schwarzman, the co-founder, CEO and chairman of investment and advisory firm the Blackstone Group, predicted that the foundation’s investment would provide an enormous boost to the state’s economy. 

“In creating an ecosystem to support aspiring entrepreneurs, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network [is] expected to double the number of startups coming out of this region, attract venture capital at all stages, create approximately 17,000 jobs, attract over $800 million in venture capital, generate revenues of close to $5 billion and [have] countless secondary impacts on the local economy,” he said. 

“The potential is tremendous. The time is right, and the talent sitting in this room, [exemplified] by the heads of these universities and the Research Triangle, is really a remarkable group.” 

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Reopened for business? City money could help unlock an East Durham gateway

The four-story office building at 300 E. Main St. has been vacant for at least 15 years. From the vandalized glass blocks on street level to the many boarded-up or glassless upper-story window frames to the faded “Durham City and County Department of Public Health” stencil over the Roxboro Street entrance, everything about it indicates long-standing neglect. 

If you think of Roxboro and Main as a gateway between downtown and East Durham, then to many passers-by the structure must have screamed a warning about, not an invitation to, the city’s east side. 

And that’s a spot with plenty of passers-by, too. Two years ago, a state Department of Transportation survey recorded an average of 9,600 vehicles per day moving along the block of Roxboro immediately south of Main; 11,000 autos traveled daily on the street between Main and Liberty. On Main between Roxboro and Mangum, 5,300 vehicles journeyed each day. (Tellingly, perhaps, the department’s figures for downtown Durham don’t contain any readings on Main east of Roxboro.) 

David Revere, the owner of 300 East Main, doesn’t plan to remake or expand the structure in any radical fashion. Still, the renovations that are set to begin there soon, thanks in part to a city grant, could have an outsized impact. 

Jake Fortune-Greeley argues that the building, which he is helping to lease and advising Revere about during the refit process, could play a vital role in the future of both downtown and East Durham. 

“Hopefully this will be an example of ... that type of space that can be delivered — good mixed use — and really get a little bit changed in sort of the, the stigma around that side of the corridor,” said Fortune-Greeley, a director at Trinity Partners. “Typically Roxboro has kind of been your ‘Well, I’m not going past that’ [line].” 

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Downtown BID tax district looks to have Council votes to roll forward -- after a 50% shave

Bull-bid Monday night's City Council meeting revealed a dais that was by no means ready to sign off on the full-gospel 7 cents per $100 of taxable value figure requested by Downtown Durham Inc. and others backing a special business improvement district for downtown Durham.

We noted here on Tuesday that Mayor Bell seemed poised to single-handedly want to find a compromise position, something hizzoner is wont to do when there seems to be division on the seven-member body.

And in the mayor's wisdom, he's seen fit to divide the BID rate in two. BCR has learned from a reliable City Hall source that Bell is looking to sell a 3.5 cent rate in place of the 7 cent'er proposed by DDI -- and with a start date delayed until July 2012.

The final tally would be revenue neutral to the so-called Bull BID, which had looked to augment DDI's annual funding in order to add additional streetscape maintenance, cleaning and ambassador services in the urban core, along with additional marketing for events and the like. That's because city manager Tom Bonfield would be called on by the council to find just under $200,000 per year to fill in the revenue hole left behind by the missing three and a half pennies.

Bell's decision to cut the Bull BID rate in two may be wise as a way of looking for community accord on a matter that brought out majority support but pointed minority opposition.

But we're not ready to call the move Solomonic yet. The real question still stands: will tax opponents like Hank Scherich, Terry Sanford Jr. and Bob "Blingram" Ingram (more on that later) come around even to a lower rate?

Continue reading "Downtown BID tax district looks to have Council votes to roll forward -- after a 50% shave" »

B.I.G. ups for developers: City awards grants to three rehab projects

Admit it. When you talk about your favorite Triangle metropolis, you focus on certain things and leave out others. When you’re trying to convince an out-of-towner of the merits of the City of Medicine, for instance, you’re apt to brag on the Gothic gorgeousness of the Duke campus, the delicious dining at the Federal or the lovely lines of the Performing Arts Center. 

There’s plenty of stuff that boosters, however fair-minded, tend not to play up about Durham. There’s virtually no reason in the world why you’d draw attention to the rundown duplex at the corner of Roxboro and Geer streets. Since Tire King moved out of its one-story building at Rigsbee and Hunt in 2009, you probably haven’t given the empty structure a second thought. And if you’ve even mentioned the old office building facing the courthouse, Social Services high-rise and First Presbyterian Church in conversation over the last 15 years, it was to ask when the derelict would either be torn down or restored to usefulness. 

In other words, all three of those buildings are more embarrassments than assets. But if building improvement grants that the City Council awarded Monday night to the trio of vacant structures have the desired effects, each could shed their eyesore status and become productive parts of the community. 

Kevin Dick heads the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. He summed up the philosophy behind the building improvement grants this way: “In general, taking any dilapidated space and upgrading the utilization of it is very positive.” 

(We’ll discuss two of the projects below; a separate post on the third building improvement grant should be up later today.) 

Continue reading "B.I.G. ups for developers: City awards grants to three rehab projects" »

H-S: Downtown BID special taxing district decision on hold until May 2

We've reported here before at some length on Downtown Durham Inc.'s proposal for a business improvement district (BID) downtown -- essentially, a special taxing district that, coupled with a reformulation of non-profit Downtown Durham Inc.'s governance structure, would allow DDI to receive additional funding on real and personal property in the downtown area. 

Those funds, if the BID is approved, would go to a "clean and green" program downtown, along with additional marketing for downtown events and additional economic development activities.

We've also noted that the public meetings called by DDI on the question saw some support, some questions, and some opposition -- particularly that led by Hank Scherich, CEO of Measurement Inc. and the second-largest downtown propertyholder. Unlike many of the other downtown investors, who can recoup (in theory at least) costs like taxes into rents or other pass-throughs, Scherich's educational testing firm occupies the buildings directly, making any offset difficult.

(As readers of the comments here know, there was also some significant opposition, it seemed, from condo sites like the Bullington on N. Duke St. and the Trinity Lofts complex at Trinity Ave. Both of those sites were excised from the BID district last month.)

Last night's City Council meeting was the chance for elected officials to vote on the matter. And as the H-S' Ray Gronberg notes in a well-reported story this morning, the answer is no answer -- for now.

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Renovated Chesterfield could continue downtown’s upturn

Just a few years ago, anyone who wanted to travel Main Street between downtown and Brightleaf Square had to pass through an urban dead zone. The tobacco factories and warehouses between the Downtown Loop and North Duke Street, seemingly devoid of  life, loomed threateningly on either side of the street. 

It’s not like that today, of course. The mixed-use West Village project now appears to be thriving, and a city streetscaping project has furnished motorists with smooth pavement and pedestrians with attractive sidewalks on either side. Day and night, Pop’s restaurant and the West End Wine Bar both draw customers to an area that was once a depressing monument to this city’s defunct tobacco economy. 

But one very prominent spot was not so welcoming, according to a member of the Durham County Board of Commissioners: the corner of Duke and Main, where the still-empty Chesterfield Building looms. 

“I know at night that block there can seem, you know, dark and very vacant,” said Ellen Reckhow, the board’s vice chairwoman. “I’ve walked it after dark in that area, and it’ll be good to breathe some life into what I consider to be a critical block.” 

The resuscitation comes courtesy of developer Josh Parker, who is about to take control of the former cigarette factory. The project has been delayed a few months, as The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz reported this morning, but it is still on track to get under way by summer, Parker insists. 

“We’ve now set June 30 as our closing date, with construction to follow immediately thereafter,” Parker told Bull City Rising. “We were hoping to get started late April and just started running out of time.” 

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