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June 2011

May 2011

New park course lets Durhamites get in on a high-wire act

Author’s note: This post was updated May 29 to add one area high ropes course and to mark hyperlinks clearly. 

The city Parks and Recreation Department is about to enable Triangle residents to taste adventure in an otherwise sleepy neighborhood. 

Construction of the new Discovery High Ropes Course at Bethesda Park wrapped up this spring. The amenity graces a 21-acre facility that already featured covered and lighted tennis and basketball courts, a disc golf course, a playground, an open play field, walking trails and restrooms when it debuted just last fall. 

The park is located at 1814 Stage Road, its entrance tucked between homes on a quiet residential street. But the new feature is noteworthy. Google indicates that Bethesda Park will have just the third second high ropes course in the Triangle to be open to the general public. (The other is others are at Cary’s Fred G. Bond Metro Park and Efland’s Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center. In addition, at least one area Girl Scout camp has a course.) 

While the official opening of the ropes course is scheduled for June 8 at 4:30 p.m., staff and visitors have been trying it out for some weeks. The department recently let a few reporters test the course’s towering array, which exceeds 50 feet. 

Kim Oberle manages adventure programs for Parks and Recreation. She’s climbed high ropes courses on and off for more than 20 years, and she helped bring the new course to Durham. 

“Some like it because they have this little thrill bone that likes going up high, because you don’t really get to do that,” Oberle said. 

Others find these courses rewarding in other ways. In Oberle’s words, some older climbers say: “I really can do these things still. I’m not old.” 

Purveyors also promote so-called challenge courses for team-building. And there’s evidence that high ropes facilities and their cousins do improve self-esteem and group dynamics. A 2005 survey by N.C. State professor Aram Attarian found that challenge courses can boost self-esteem, decision-making, group cohesion and family dynamics. 


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Pouring rain, hail, American Tobacco Trail out to bid: all signs Harold Camping was one week off on rapture pick

The pouring, dousing, heavy rain outside with hail bits flying, and flooding on local roads like University Dr., Alston Ave. and the like?

By itself, nothing to worry about. An isolated moment of nature's fury, nothing more.

Add to that breaking news today that the American Tobacco Trail's Phase E is going out to bid on Tuesday, May 31?

Truly, taking this news in toto: a sign of the apocalypse!

Yes, the long, long, long delayed "missing link" in the ATT -- which will connect from the trail's current end at NC 54 down to I-40, cross I-40 at the Streets of Southpoint Mall with a pedestrian bridge, and then provide a smooth surface to the Durham-Chatham Co. line, joining up eventually with regional trails all the way to Cary and Raleigh -- is moving forward after nearly a decade's time has passed since the first segment opened.

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Greenfire denies that "neglected property maintenance" played role in Liberty Warehouse problems

The day-to-day saga of the Liberty Warehouse continued today with an update from the Triangle Business Journal's Monica Chen, who reported an update on the building's condition that emanated from Greenfire Development head Michael Lemanski.

In the story, published this afternoon at TBJ, a "drainage system" with design issues and accumulated "deterioration" problems described as not visible under ordinary inspection were blamed, though a final analysis is still due in several weeks. And Lemanski tells the paper that the roof collapse had nothing to do with any management issues or failures on the downtown developer's part:

Lemanski had a response to chatter of Greenfire’s management of the buildings that some say contributed to the roof cave-in: “There have been rumors that there have been neglected property maintenance, but that has not been determined to be a cause of the event.”

If that remains the case after the final data is all in, it'd be an important rebuttal to a message that's emanated in the public sphere in recent weeks -- though an explanation that will nonetheless seem to have to overcome public opinion and the perception, at least, of Occam's Razor.

After all, the roof collapse weekend before last came just a few weeks after a portion of the building was condemned by the City for, as The Durham News' Virginia Bridges put it, a "rotted roof and excessive water penetration," with local non-profit Liberty Arts saying that they had to evacuate water from their area at every rainfall.

Coincidence, the late April complaints and partial condemnation, and the May roof collapse?

If it should be the case when all's said and done, with luck like that, might I suggest the folks at Greenfire might want to avoid buying any lottery tickets anytime soon?

Lender-forced property auction marks partial unwinding of one long-held Durham rental property empire

The most-popular item for viewing on the Triangle web site of the LoopNet commercial real estate system last week was the announcement of a lender forced estate auction, noting an early June date when 48 different apartment units in the Bull City will hit the auction block.

The count includes twelve units in three quadplexes on Atka Court, the tiny cul-de-sac near Holloway St. where thirteen year old Shakanah China was killed in a drive-by shooting last week -- the latest violent episode on the street, the N&O noted, where a homicide occurred in 1995, a survived shooting took place in 2009, and where DPD calls for service have reportedly been common.

The Atka Ct. units are swept up in what appears from the LoopNet posting to be a partial unwinding of the real estate empire of Bobby Roberts, the one-time Durham developer who claimed in a much-covered court case in the late 1990s that he had built more than five thousand homes in Durham in a career dating back to the 1950s.

The 79-year-old Roberts died last summer; less than a year later, these forty-eight units are hitting the market.

And like Atka Court, which residents say has long been plagued by shootings, some of these properties are or are adjacent to properties that have seen more than their share of crime problems, a search of news reports suggests.

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Greenfire stumbles, American Tobacco promises big expansion in a day of odd downtown duality

When it comes to downtown Durham development, the recession has slowed the commencement of major new projects and slowed the news cycle in general, though the upfit of existing retail spaces and the like has continued to move along smartly.

Which makes it all the stranger how active Tuesday was in downtown Durham news stories -- one quite worrisome to many, the other remarkably bullish, pardon the pun.

The troubling story, no surprise, is the latest turn in the Greenfire Development saga over the Liberty Warehouse, Durham's last remaining standing auction house for tobacco, though inactive for that use for decades and now serving as office and business space for a range of largely non-profit organizations.

But "last remaining standing" risks being anachronistic, with City partial condemnation actions over leaks and squabbles with tenants followed by this weekend's rain soaking leading to a roof failure. On Tuesday, the City forced the lock-out out of all tenants, leading them to scramble to find new homes.

Meanwhile, Tuesday also noted the big reveal (in the form of ex-Herald-Sun reporter Monica Chen's story in the Triangle Business Journal) that Capitol Broadcasting had filed site plans for the expansion of American Tobacco -- including both Diamond View III and the long-awaited wrapper building for the east parking deck.

CBC real estate VP Michael Goodmon notes that the filing is procedural at this point, and that there aren't tenants linked to the project and a construction start date isn't ready. The wrapper buildings could include office space, could include residential units, could be a boutique hotel, based on past reports.

Still, we have a hunch here at BCR that given market demand and the size of the spaces, much of the space would be ideal to "tweener" companies, the next-level in downtown entrepreneurship who, to paraphrase Goldilocks, need a space that's not too small and not too big.

Which, ironically, are the very tenants that seem to sit at the heart of Greenfire's plans too. 

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Burt’s Bees work today to further Bull City urban farms

A local personal hygiene product maker is donating a day of service in an effort that could boost Durham’s urban farming movement. 

Nearly 400 locally based Burt’s Bees employees are scheduled to work today at three sites controlled by the local nonprofit NEEM. The group’s founder and director, Jeff Ensminger, called the donation of labor “one of the coolest things I’ve seen a company do.” 

The activity will be taking place at NEEM’s headquarters, Rolls Garden, at 2001 Chapel Hill Road; on a 0.9-acre parcel at 1000 Hazel St.; and on an 8.3-acre parcel at 1500 Wabash St. Workers will build a greenhouse, paint a building, put in raised beds and do other work at the different sites. 

All three sites will be used to grow food. The location Ensminger calls Organoponico Hazel, using a Cuban term for urban farm, will be developed to sell produce. NEEM’s head hopes proceeds from that endeavor will enable him to hire local residents to cultivate the plots.

The other new NEEM location, Organoponico Wabash, will be developed as an agricultural research station in conjunction with North Carolina Central University, which the property is near. 

Beth Ritter is Burt’s Bees’ senior vice president of human resources. 

“We like what it’s about, that it’s about bringing to more folks in Durham,” she said. “And maybe into some neighborhoods that might not normally have access to this.” 

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Bull City Arts Collaborative, Horse & Buggy Press celebrate anniversaries with Third Friday event

What do the Full Frame program guide, the Durham Farmers’ Market broadside, the menus at Watts Grocery, and this Independent Weekly cover have in common?

If you've seen a connection between all of them, that's no surprise. They're all the work of the same downtown Durham-based designer: Dave Wofford, the sole proprietor behind Horse & Buggy Press, a graphic design and letterpress printing studio housed within the Bull City Arts Collaborative.

   Farmers Market broadside
Horse & Buggy Press is coming up on its fifteenth anniversary this year. The last eight years have been in Durham, and the last five have been in the Bull City Arts Collaborative. An event this coming Friday will celebrate the five-year anniversary of the BCAC.

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County health department proposes outdoor smoking restrictions; some parks, transit stops, hospital areas proposed for bans

An email release from the Durham County Health Department last week noted in an understated way that the department was inviting public comment on a proposed rule that would ban smoking in a range of public spaces.

There's nothing understated about the proposal itself, however, which would ban smoking in some public parks, akin to a recent municipal move in Raleigh. But would go significantly further, it seems, to address tobacco use in a range of non-park public spaces.

Certain parks, all city/county owned property, outdoor bus stops, and sidewalks outside hospitals and public spaces would go smokefree if the County Commissioners approve the proposal.

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Dogstar Tattoo Co. nearly set to move upstairs at Golden Belt Arts

For 14 years, Dogstar Tattoo Co. has been putting its mark on Durham. By month’s end, it could be ready to move into a new home that may be nearly as permanent as the patterns its artists imprint on clients. 


Dogstar Tattoo moved from its longtime Ninth Street storefront to Golden Belt Arts last fall. But its current lower-level spot on the east side of Golden Belt’s Building 6 is a temporary location. Around month’s end, the shop should move to a suite in the southwest corner of the same building. 

The move will also coincide with an increased emphasis by Dogstar Tattoo Co. on community service, about which more later. 

The new space has about 1,900 square feet and occupies a prominent ground-level location near Main Street. “I really am confident that we’re going to do just fine upstairs,” said Kathryn Moore, owner of Dogstar Tattoo Co. 

Visibility wasn’t an issue on Ninth Street, but Moore had issues with the location. “It was really old, pretty run-down, really energy inefficient,” she said. “I was having to fix everything. And so I’ve moved in with a company that is taking care of all of that and upped the ante where we’ve got an efficient HVAC.” 

Parking is also more convenient at her location, according to Moore, who said she has signed a 10-year lease at Golden Belt. 

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Duke bid on tobacco warehouse could extend the university’s downtown footprint

Durham County is putting the old Carmichael warehouse up for sale, Ray Gronberg reported in Tuesday’s Herald-Sun, following Duke’s submission of a $6.8 million bid for the building. What does that mean for downtown Durham? 

Good things, according to Bill Kalkhof, the impresario of downtown Durham and the president of Downtown Durham Inc. 

“The county has a very solid offer that I think is a very fair offer for the property,” Kalkhof said. “And it’s being made by a great institution, and the offer can only get better from here.” 

The statutory process by which the property is being sold gives other interested parties 10 days from the date a formal notice of sale is published to submit upset bids. Such a bid must exceed the preceding offer by 5 percent. Each upset triggers a new advertisement and a new 10-day window for further bidding.

The county is not obligated to complete a sale. 

A transfer of the Carmichael, a tobacco drying and storage warehouse built by Liggett and Myers in 1926, has been brewing for years. The space is currently occupied by part of the county’s Department of Social Services. By 2013, those offices should be set to move into the finished Human Services Complex on East Main Street, which is already partially occupied. 

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