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May 2011

Bands go “undercover” for charity this week at Motorco

Several local bands are the draw for Bull City Undercover, a three-night event at Motorco Music Hall that begins Thursday. They’re the bait, if you will. 


And the switch? That involves the songs those bands will play. The musicians will bypass their original work and exclusively perform tunes by an earlier band that has significantly influenced their work. Think of it as a musical wife swap or Freaky Friday

The cover is $5 per person per night, with doors opening at 8 p.m. Proceeds from the event will benefit SEEDS and the Central Park School for Children

“It’s a good way for bands to have some fun and raise some money for great causes,” said Chris Tamplin, a partner in Motorco and the venue’s booker. 

The identities of the participating acts aren’t secret; see below for the full lineup. But the bands they’ll be covering are supposed to be kept under wraps until each 30-minute set begins. 

Guitarist Alex Maiolo will be performing Saturday with an unnamed band that got together just for Undercover. He knows from past events that part of the fun is guessing who will be playing what. 

Spectators and musicians “show up, they stand around, they see people milling around in the crowd dressed like they aren’t normally dressed,” he said. “And then you sit there and you look at somebody and you say, ‘Is that guy supposed to be Elvis or Roy Orbison or — I’m not quite sure who he is.’ And then, of course, people get on stage and, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s so and so!’ ” 

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$800,000 and a dream: Wendelbo takes unusual approach to massive sculpture

Editor’s note: This post is the second of two examining John Wendelbo and the Durham Sculpture Project. The first piece provided an overview of the project and the proposed sculpture. This piece explores Wendelbo’s background and the project’s unusual funding approach. 


Ambitious, innovative and risky by its very nature, the Durham Sculpture Project can be summed up in one word: entrepreneurial. This is the type of venture that is mounted not to fill a market need but to create a market. Artist-engineer John Wendelbo, the project’s leader, implicitly acknowledged as much when he said he wants his initiative to spur the creation of additional sculptures in Durham and the Triangle. 

What’s more, the approach Wendelbo is taking to create a 35-foot-high piece of art essentially turns the conventional process on its head. 

Because of the expense involved in building bigger pieces, most large sculptures are commissioned. Few sculptors begin with a concept for an expensive undertaking and then pursue the funding for it, as Wendelbo is doing. 

“I’ve not seen it in the visual arts as much with something with this scale,” said Margaret DeMott, an official with the Durham Arts Council who has discussed the project with Wendelbo. “I’ve seen it more with the performance arts. So it’s interesting.” 

Mark Rossier is deputy director of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that helps artists throughout the nation. 

“He’s got a pretty ambitious vision, and he’s worked out the details there, and so there’s no reason for him to not go out and try to raise money to see the thing through,” Rossier said. “People waiting around hoping someone will commission their work — they might wait a while. So as much as possible, we encourage artists to sort of grab the bull by the horns and just do something.” 

The foundation is serving the Durham Sculpture Project as its fiscal agent, a function it performs for hundreds of artistic programs. 

While the foundation supports all manner of artwork, including films and other-large ventures, Rossier said, “I would say a sculpture project of this size is — is unusual... We have a few other public art kind of projects, but — but it’s not the run-of-the-mill project that we do.” 

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$800,000 and a dream: “Dionysos” has grand scope, big ambitions

Editor’s note: This post is the first of two examining John Wendelbo and the Durham Sculpture Project. This piece provides an overview of the project and the proposed sculpture. A second piece, to be posted later today, will look at Wendelbo’s background and the project’s unusual funding approach. 


A Durham resident is scheming to remake the city’s landscape and the region’s sculpture scene. 

John Wendelbo is an engineer by training and artist by vocation. His day job at Carolina Bronze Sculpture of Seagrove involves both of those spheres. Now, he’s trying to combine profession and passion through an independent initiative called the Durham Sculpture Project

Simply put, the project is an effort to raise approximately $800,000 from a variety of sources to fabricate a massive abstract sculpture designed by Wendelbo himself. At a projected 35 feet high, “Dionysos” would dwarf virtually every other piece of artwork in Durham and stand taller than most buildings in the county. 


The French-born artist-engineer believes that his project, which might take four years to complete, can make a big impact on the city and region. 

“If you embark on a really big sculpture,” Wendelbo said, “then you’re genuinely creating new jobs to build the sculpture. Not only new jobs, but you’re creating an infrastructure that enables you to build more sculptures.” 

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Two bicycle shops set to roll into downtown

Central Durham, which has gone several months without a bicycle shop, should have two by next year. 

Seven Stars Cycles has already started limited operations in a garage bay at 723 Rigsbee Ave., better known as the home of Motorco Music Hall

Seven Stars — the name alludes to the Durham city flag — will focus on bicycle repairs. The emphasis will be on commuter, family and utility cycling, as opposed to bike racing. 

Currently, the store is open by appointment only as partners Adrian Fletcher and Christopher McQueen are trying to show their new venture’s flag at different area bicycling events. (May is National Bicycle Month.) 

Next spring, Seven Stars will be joined by Bullseye Bicycles. This new business has arranged to purchase a 700-square-foot ground-level retail store at 102 Morris St., the Five Points property that architect-developer Scott Harmon plans to buy and refurbish. 

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American Tobacco's LaunchBox Digital ranks fourth nationally among startup accelerators

We knew it was big news when Washington, DC-based startup accelerator LaunchBox Digital announced it would be moving its program to Durham, specifically to the American Underground real estate play on the basement level of American Tobacco's campus.

Launchbox-logo LaunchBox, after all, had a national reputation as a great place to start a start-up.

But just how good? If a recent ranking by a Kauffman Foundation fellow in collaboration with Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and the publication Tech Cocktail is to be believed, pretty good indeed.

LaunchBox Digital was just ranked fourth nationally among all such accelerators -- and was the only accelerator in the southeastern United States outside Texas to be recognized.

TechStars Boulder and the best-known of the breed, Silicon Valley's Y Combinator, took the top two spots; Chicago's Excelerate Labs ranked third.

The news comes amidst a spate of interest in entrepreneurship and start-ups in Durham, from Bull City Forward's just-celebrated one year anniversary to the arrival of support from the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, which could help bring heightened venture capital attention to Durham, long in the blind spot of major West Coast VCs.

See more at Tech Cocktail.

So, Raleigh, now it's *you* caring about what's going on downstream?

Throughout the Falls Lake Rules process, one thing that's been frustrating at times for those of us in upstream Durham -- where a significant majority of our blue county, I suspect, supports tougher environmental measures -- has been the frustration of getting finger-wagged over growth and pollutants by our downstream neighbor.

A neighbor that's grown far faster than Durham, Orange, or Person, taking up a disproportionate share of regional growth. A neighbor whose impervious surface levels soared in the area around Falls Lake much faster than Durham's did. A neighbor whose County Commissioners vetoed a slow-growth provision near a future reservoir site so that Rolesville (who wants to live in Rolesville?) could keep growing.

A neighbor that chews up greenfields for subdivisions like a fat guy eats hot dogs at a July Fourth eating contest on Coney Island.

Well, what do we see today at the (absolutely terrific) site Raleigh Public Record?

Raleigh city officials say a proposed chicken operation in [downstream-from-Wake --BCR] Nash County could cost them big bucks for waste cleanup. [...]

If [the plant and associated Consolidated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs are] built as planned, Raleigh officials say nutrient levels in the Neuse and its estuary will rise. Should that happen, Waldroup predicts “the federal government, through the Clean Water Act, will require additional nutrient reductions from everyone upstream, not just the plant or the CAFOs.”

“Everyone within the basin will be affected, and traditionally point sources, like waste water treatment plants, will feel the brunt before non-point sources like land application operations,” he said.

“Municipalities, rather than the CAFOs, will receive more scrutiny because of how the Clean Water Act is structured.”

Meanwhile, the article tells us, Raleigh's three wastewater treatment plants have spent $25 million (gee!) to meet tighter nitrogen and phosphorus requirements -- and as much as (gasp!) a half-million a year in operating expenses to meet pollution rules.

But let me get this straight. Raleigh's grown at massive rates in the past decade, with the fastest growth countywide in the Brier Creek area, which drains to the Neuse just downstream of Falls Lake...

...and you're concerned that something happening downstream from you could make you have to spend more on pollution clean-up?

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Brownstones lux-townhouse site offered up for sale; will denser residential or a parking lot follow?

A few years back, nothing could get the hackles up of many Trinity Park residents as fast as the controversy over the old McPherson Hospital site -- both the Main and Watts parcel that holds the remnants of the historic old institution, and the parking lot across the street behind Papa John's Pizza that served the site.

Bye-bye-brownstones Mind you, folks were agitated on both sides of the equation on the onetime boutique hotel and condo project proposed for the site. Some neighbors opposed the project over concerns of the proposed density of a condominium building to be known as The Chancellory, with opposition increasing after the "boutique hotel" site was sold after entitlement approvals to a Raleigh firm that develops Marriott properties nationwide.

Other residents supported the project, including the fairly dense condo proposal, as bringing more residents and life to the near-downtown area and helping in turn to drive demand for local businesses, and as being similar in size and scale to multifamily projects like the Beverly Apartments that formerly existed on the site.

The Chancellory condo project came to naught in its circa-2007 form, rejected after a long controversy with the adjacent Trinity Park neighborhood. In its place came the luxury townhouse project known as The Brownstones, which itself hit the market right before the housing market crashed later in 2008.

A proposed Residence Inn by Marriott seems to be moving forward on the McPherson Hospital site itself. But whither the Brownstones?

Withered, perhaps. Developer Lou Goetz has the property listed for sale on LoopNet for $1.25 million, in a land-only transaction.

And in an interesting twist, Goetz notes that recent Durham ordinance changes -- those, we presume, that followed the recent changes to downtown zoning -- now allow "unlimited density" by right.

The $1.25 million question: will a buyer take advantage of changes in downtown zoning and seek to build a larger residential project here? Or will the highest and best use of the land be in support of the hotel across the street?

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Downtown BID gets Council endorsement at 7 cent rate -- for now

The City Council last night voted on the business improvement district (BID) that's been proposed for the city's center.

The vote noted a somewhat unusual division on Council, as the agreeable seven remained cordial and agreeable -- except for the final vote, which fell out 4-3 in favor of a substitute motion by Councilwoman Diane Catotti for a 7 cent per $100 of property valuation rate.

The divided vote shouldn't be read as hesitant support for the BID; despite the marshaling of opponents by leaders that included notably Measurement Inc.'s Hank Scherich, all seven members of Council seemed to favor a business improvement district. The only variance? How much additional taxation downtown property owners should face.

But the 3.5 cent and 7 cent recommendations are just that -- non-binding recommendations for an eventual rate, given the July 2012 start date for the initiative. And while Council could act before next summer on the matter, there seems to be a good chance that a final decision really won't end up being known until after this fall's at-large Council election, for which Catotti has announced she will not stand for re-election.

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