Making (dollars and) sense of the downtown library renovation bond

Durham has seen an outstanding turnout in early voting -- just short of 120,000 souls made it to early voting, just over half of the county's registered voter base. And given our bluer-than-blue shade on political maps, it seems nearly a fait accompli that all four bond issues will pass, including that for the main downtown library renovation.

Still, we noticed with some interest discussion on local neighborhood listservs wondering about the library's cost -- a $44.3 million project, about three quarters of which is allocated to construction. 

That is four times the cost projected in 2008 -- then, an $8 million construction budget out of a total project cost of approximately $11 million. (For background, see BCR's extensive July 2008 and September 2008 coverage, and Lisa Sorg's March 2016 update.)

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Of course, when the project was first under discussion back in '08, there was plenty of grousing from residents and elected officials alike about whether that number was sufficient to develop a first-class library for Durham, given that the renovation cost was only a bit more than the new-build cost of two of Durham's final new-build regional libraries.

The project team at the time put their best foot forward, pontificating on the building's panel/curtainwall exterior, and noting that communities with strong regional libraries (like Durham) needed less space than others.

Then that renovation project went away, only the resurface in the past couple of years with a new project team, a new library director, the departure of the former county engineer -- and, a budget that is a multiple of its old self.

Over the past few weeks, BCR has been taking a look at other library projects in the US and talking with Durham County Library (DCL) staff and project team members to try to figure out what's driving the cost.

Our take? While it's a steep rise in cost and a larger library than was proposed in 2008, it also is at least commensurate with other projects in smaller/mid-sized cities, and likely reflects a more realistic project than was initially proposed a few years back.

Continue reading "Making (dollars and) sense of the downtown library renovation bond" »


Shawn Stokes of Luna: "I didn’t think that there would be public outcry about it," + Black Wall Street Plaza still needs our attention

Photograph_102104_W_Main_Street_107_N_Mangum_Street

Looking at the corner of Main and Mangum streets, where the southern end of Black Wall Street Plaza is today.
Date of the photograph is 1963. Note that Mangum Street is already one-way south.
Courtesy of Durham County Public Library
Photo owned by Rachel Middleton Brown, Robert Lee Middleton, Sara Middleton Mocrich

“What defines a character of a city is its public space, not its private space. What defines the value of the private assets of the space are not the assets by themselves but the common assets. The value of the public good affects the value of the private good. We need to show every day that public spaces are an asset to a city.”
-- Joan Clos, executive director, United Nations Human Settlements Program

 

The Luna proposal died before it was born.

Less than a week after a public meeting about the future of Black Wall Street Plaza — a quarter-acre of city-owned green space bordered by Parrish, Main, and Mangum streets — Shawn Stokes, the chef/owner of Luna Rotisserie, withdrew his inquiry into placing outdoor seating in a corner of it.

“Based on feedback from the public discussion last Thursday, and subsequent coverage and commentary, we've decided to end our inquiry into a public private partnership to revitalize the space,” Stokes wrote to me in an email on Tuesday.

Stokes opened his popular restaurant at 112 West Main Street last fall. Previously, he had served in the Peace Corps and USAID in South America. In rural Ecuador, he worked with organic-coffee growers to help them export value-added products, not just raw green coffee beans. He worked on environmental and social equity issues in Brazil and preventing gang violence in Panama.

“I had a skeptical view of business,” Stokes said. “I wanted Luna to be more than a successful business but to have another [social justice] aspect to it.” The lowest-paid worker at Luna earns $12 an hour, he said. Several line cooks earn $45,000 a year.

On Tuesday afternoon, after Luna had closed for lunch, Stokes and I sat in the park and talked about his plan, the public reaction, and his wish that the community come together to determine the future of the beloved space. 

While we were there, the park did its thing: A man walked his dog along the path. A homeless woman, dressed in a winter coat and scarf on a summer day, lumbered by, burdened by her bags of belongings. She settled at a table, singing. Another man stopped at our table and gave Stokes and I each a peppermint.

Here’s a Q&A of our conversation. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. We also spoke to the building owners; that interview follows the one with Stokes.

Why did you want to put outdoor dining here?

The space was advertised with a patio. [The building is owned by Elaine Curry and Dawn Paige.] A tenant before us wanted a club but the people living across the street in the Kress Building didn’t want that because of the noise. Elaine and Dawn thought the city would be amenable not to a disco, but a restaurant patio.  When I was looking for a space, I thought we have so much nice weather here, and I love being outside, I love dining outside, it sets a really nice environment. The patio would have been open to the public when we weren't open. I didn’t think that there would be public outcry about it. 

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The rental flyer for 112 West Main Street; the schematic includes a 560-square-foot patio. 
A quarter-acre equals 10,890 square feet. However, Duke Energy has two large transformer
boxes that eat up plaza space. Time Warner Cable also has a utility box.

 

When did you first approach the city about the idea?

Late last year we introduced the idea, but it sat for a while. The second discussion with the city was more recent. We were being affected by crime. One of our employees left the back door unlocked and someone took some things. An employee had his bike stolen. We used to let people use the bathroom, but then someone shot up in there. After that, we stopped allowing that. We tell people to go to City Hall.

What were some of your ideas about the park?

We wanted there to be seating without the barriers. We wanted to provided charging stations for the homeless who have phones. We wanted to make improvements that would cater to people who use the park, including the homeless. We really did think a patio would be an added value for the park. It would allow for eyes on the park, seating for guests outside helps prevent crime. It’s a special little place, and even though our proposal is withdrawn, it’s exciting to see people passionate about it. 

Nnenna Freelon, who attended the public meeting, had reservations about Luna’s proposal because it could have ousted homeless people from the space. She stops by the table with an “I Voted” sticker on her shirt. We invite her to sit and chat.

Freelon: I hate that you guys had to be flayed at the meeting. The way the city handled the meeting did not allow people to think creatively. People feel very protective of the this place. It’s the last green space in the neighborhood. But how do we build community around the park? There’s not enough investment in it, spiritually and economically. 

Stokes: I hope that people continue to express their feelings about the park to the city and other stakeholders.

Freelon: There’s an opportunity here. Part of the problem is that there is not enough open free space. We’ve entered a new phase, and we can still create what we want. We need a water fountain, it could be a memorial water fountain to educate people about segregation. We need more places to sit in the shade. These tables say, “People have to know one another to sit here.” We want benches. We want public bathrooms here. No one wants to pee in the park.

Stokes: And there could be emergency buttons in there if someone gets into trouble. You can build the bathrooms so you can see people’s feet, to see if someone is using it. We also could have low terraced walls around the park [instead of the chains and wooden bollards].

BCR: In Chinatown in San Francisco, people do tai chi in the park. It’s beautiful to watch.

Freelon: Everyone is feeling possessive about this space. Things work better when there’s synergy.

Stokes: The business owners, people who live here, who hang out here, there’s a lot of potential. There’s a lot of momentum about the park right now. We need to keep it going.

**************

Elaine Curry and Dawn Paige have owned the building for three years. BCR spoke with Curry on Wednesday.

Did you speak with the city about a patio?

Curry: We did speak with the city about the possibilities, including this option, but they didn't really have a process for it. 

What do you think of the public response to Luna's proposal?

We think all of the public should have a voice in Luna's proposal. I was at the meeting, and there wasn't a broad spectrum of stakeholders there. Shawn never got to make his proposal. He's very community minded. He never wanted to desecrate the park, like some people have said.

What is your vision for the space, being its neighbor?

We're stakeholders. I've lived and worked in Durham 15 years. I patronize downtown Durham businesses. It's a beautiful space, but it could be more than that without changing what's important about it. We want it to be open, with lighting and bathrooms. We've donated money to the church that holds services for the homeless there [Bridge Ministries]. We like that it's a place for everybody. 

 

To that end, Bull City Rising would like to co-sponsor a block party this summer in the park/plaza (with the proper permits, of course). There, the community at-large could informally discuss and brainstorm about how to improve and protect the space for everyone: lighting, public bathrooms, benches, other public amenities — and how much it would cost. Since the city owns the land, those suggestions would be forwarded to General Services, which maintains the space.  

Contact Lisa Sorg at lrsorg@gmail.com.

 

 


When public becomes private: Luna Rotisserie interested in leasing part of Chickenbone Park

Update, Tuesday, June 7, at 12:50 p.m. We received arrived on what constitutes Black Wall Street Plaza: It is both the parcel with the gazebo along Orange Street (north side of Parrish) and extends to Main Street and encompasses what is colloquially known as Chickenbone Park.

We contacted Aaron Cain, who is on the city planning staff, about this. The plaza on the north side of Parrish Street was dedicated as Black Wall Street Plaza a couple of years ago. Since then, improvements have been made to the parcels on the south side of Parrish Street, including the pergola, that mirror those on the north side. So, as part of a rebranding effort, the City administration has asked city staff to start referring to the open space on both the north and south sides of Parrish Street as Black Wall Street Plaza.
 
Here is the lowdown: The city used the term "Chickenbone Park" in its press release so that only to make sure that those reading the press release would know which area we were addressing, again because it's the name that many people use. However, it's a term that City staffers avoid.

**************

At Chickenbone Park, a fleck of green space in downtown Durham, about 20 people have gathered in the shade, seeking refuge from the noontime sun under the crape myrtle trees. Grocery bags bulging with belongings rest on the grass.

“It may get better. It may get worse,” the preacher, an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, tells the crowd. “You know how things go. But the Lord will always be with you.”

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Music for the church service and luncheon  Photo by Lisa Sorg

They sing a song and break for lunch — pork sandwiches and sodas — and then disperse to the air-conditioned library, Five Points plaza, the bus benches along Main Street. A few stick around.

The life in this park — which isn’t technically a park, but instead a quarter-acre of city-owned open space bordered by Main, Parrish , Orange, and Mangum streets — largely keeps to itself. And there in lies its intrinsic value. The park, also known as Black Wall Street Plaza, is one of the last two public green spaces inside the Loop. It offers a respite from the concrete. It is one of the few places downtown where you can hear the birds sing in the morning. It is a place, a woman told city planners last week, where everyone can “just be.”

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The city’s planning department had called the meeting at the behest of the city administration to gauge public sentiment on privatizing a portion of the park. Although no one has formally submitted a proposal, Shawn Stokes, who owns Luna Rotisserie next door, has been interested in carving out a piece for outdoor dining. In return, Luna would pay for improvements to the park, such as lighting. (However, a city ordinance prohibits the sale of alcohol in Chickenbone Park; City Council would have to amend the law to allow Luna patrons to drink there.)

“What we would propose would be a win-win. It would make the space more inviting and open,” Stokes said. He’s filed five police reports in the nine months his restaurant has been open, he said, including an incident in which “someone was shooting up in the [Luna] bathroom on the baby-changing table.”

Yet privatizing even a sliver of a public green space — at the crossroads of downtown, the parcel also faces historic Parrish Street — sets an uneasy precedent for Durham. Already the city has leased and sold easements and air rights to condo projects abutting Durham Central Park. If Luna is granted a lease on a part of the property — clearly one of the most valuable downtown — then who else will want a piece of it?

Most of what we think of as public space is actually private. American Tobacco Campus, including the lawn in front of the Aloft Hotel, is privately owned (only within the last few years has photography been allowed), with security to keep the homeless from loitering there. Brightleaf Square is also private.

One of the joys of erstwhile lawn adjacent to the Green Wall at Main and Corcoran streets was that the public took de facto ownership over a neglected private space; the city even mowed it. Now the grass is gone, replaced by is a gaping maw while a 26-story skyscraper is built there.

If there were private space in Chickenbone Park, it should be shared and unobtrusive: a coffee kiosk, for example, or a bikeshare program. However, cordoning off the space would likely alienate some park patrons the way velvet ropes outside trendy nightclubs separate the desired from the undesirable. The homeless who encamp there during the day could feel less welcome, said Nnenna Freelon. “There should be a direct benefit to the least powerful of the users,” she said. “This is one of the few places in Durham where the homeless can sit and feel they don’t have to move.”

 

Continue reading "When public becomes private: Luna Rotisserie interested in leasing part of Chickenbone Park" »


Durham Rescue Mission wants no part of Golden Belt's local historic designation

Golden Belt (dragged)

 

It cost just $265 to build a three-room house on Morning Glory Avenue; for an extra $4, the carpenter would toss in a privy. That was in 1900, when the 20-acre mill village, then known as Morning Glory, housed the workers who made cloth and thread at the nearby Golden Belt factory.

Download Golden Belt

More than 115 years later, the Golden Belt neighborhood is one of the last areas near downtown that is relatively affordable for the middle-class. And with its tight street grid and modest former mill houses, the neighborhood feels distinct — character that residents want to preserve through a local historic designation.

“It’s our hope that local designation will guide further development, small-scale in form and character in the future development,” Jennifer Martin Mitchell of MdM, the city’s consultants for the project, told the Historic Preservation Commission at a special meeting Wednesday morning.

The HPC recommended the designation and its boundaries at a meeting Wednesday morning, although with concerns about criteria that could guide future development.

While residents at the meeting overwhelmingly supported the designation, a major property owner in the neighborhood, the Durham Rescue Mission, wants to secede from the proposed historic district. The mission owns 13 properties in the neighborhood, including five historically contributing structures and several vacant lots in the 1200 block of Worth Street and Morning Glory Avenue.

 “We want to be sliced out somehow,” Rob Tart, the rescue mission’s chief operating officer, told the HPC. “We don’t want to be part of it. It’s onerous. It doesn’t help us accomplish our goals of serving homeless people. This will not help what we’re trying to do. We don’t think it’s profitable or helpful.”

However, what the rescue mission is trying to do is unclear. Tart acknowledged the nonprofit, which has been in the neighborhood since 1974, has no concrete vision for its properties, only to say it doesn’t include single-family homes. He also said he had not read the design criteria, only that he had been “briefed on it.”  

“But we have no desire to build what you want us to,” Tart told the HPC. “You’ll leave those lots empty. Nothing will happen on those properties, because we’re not going anywhere.”

Since the mission is a nonprofit, it does not pay property taxes. It has assets worth $23 million, according to its 2014 federal tax statements. The mission CEO, Ernie Mills, earns nearly $150,000 annually. Tart is paid $110,000 per year.  Download 2014_DurhamRescueMission

Vacant lots provide an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of a historic neighborhood, said Cynthia de Miranda of MdM. “They can help reestablish street patterns. They can enhance what has been lost.”

Lisa Miller, a senior planner and urban designer for the city, told Tart that multi-family housing could be built in the historic district, as long as it’s “not a big block of apartments of monolithic faces to the streets.” For example, after several design iterations, the Greystone apartment complex in historic Morehead Hill was ultimately approved by the HPC. 

“This isn’t hamstringing or forcing someone to build single-family homes,” Miller said. “There is a lot of leeway but you do have to hold on to basic elements of building placement and design.”

Without a local historic designation and its associated design criteria, the Golden Belt neighborhood could be very much in jeopardy. The widening of Alston Avenue — construction is scheduled to begin in August — threatens to divide the eastern and western portions of the neighborhood. 

“We see this local designation to give the neighborhood some leverage to be the walkable, integrated, inclusive community we want it to be,” said Mel Norton, who lives on Wall Street. As part of Durham Congregations and Neighborhoods, she has conducted extensive research on gentrification in the city. “I’m afraid we’ll see what’s happening in Cleveland-Holloway happening here” — teardowns replaced by “bigger non-descriptive homes that don’t relate to the neighborhood.”

And with the its proximity to downtown, former Golden Belt resident John Martin said, the neighborhood “is still very fragile. “If you don’t do this, you’ll start seeing gentrification in a bad way, people tearing down mill houses that can be protected and preserved.”

Construction and renovation projects by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity and Scientific Properties, which purchased the old factories and several blighted homes, have kept prices modest, often under $150,000. But the asking price for a new house on Worth Street is $295,000.

“There are already high development pressures that will increase over time,” said Ben Filippo, executive director of Preservation Durham

Maintaining connectivity on the east and west sides of Alston Avenue is “essential” he added, and that tax breaks for preservation could help achieve that goal.

“If we can’t include those residences — the working class housing-stock that Durham was built on — if we don’t provide incentives to protect that,” Filippo said, “we are doing a major disservice to our residents.”

The issue will go to the planning commission in June, and ultimately to City Council.

Timeline of Golden Belt neighborhood

1900: Julian Carr begins construction of the cotton mill and bag factory, plus the first phase of the village 

1906-1930: Golden Belt expands to six factories, including hosiery and cigarette cartons

1910-1920: Mill village expands to accommodate additional workers.

1985:  The 39-acre Golden Belt Historic District listed on National Register of Historic Places

1996:  The district boundary increased to add a building at the southeast corner of East Main  and North Elm streets. The building has since been demolished but the parcel remains in the district. 

2008: Period of significance is extended from 1935 to 1958

2010:  Petition is circulated to also designate the National Historic District a local historic district.

2015:  Creation of local district initiated with public meetings and initial research by MdM   Historical Consultants


The affordable housing possibilities at the soon-to-be old Durham Police Department

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.16.44 AMPhoto from Durham Police Department annual report, 2008

Here’s a morning mental exercise: This fall, Durham County is expected to place a bond referendum on the ballot to help pay for a $40 million major renovation of the Main Library downtown. The bond will likely pass — let's hope — because libraries are beloved, vital community resources.

Now, if $81 million in funding for the new Durham Police Department were put to a bond referendum, would voters pass it? I’m not so sure.

Last night, Durham Beyond Policing held a public protest at DPD headquarters objecting to the city’s financial priorities: the money budgeted from city coffers for the new DPD mothership on East Main Street versus funding for affordable housing, free and expanded public transit, living wages for city workers, restorative justice.

Realistically, it’s doubtful that the city will cancel the deal. It’s just too far in the process, with Council approving the architectural designs last month.

However, there’s an opportunity here: The current headquarters at 505 W. Chapel Hill St., is prime, city-owned real estate for affordable housing. The building sits on 4.1 acres of land, 3.35 of it surface parking — quite a waste.

It’s next to the bus station and across the street from the Amtrak stop. In other words, ideal for low-income households, especially those earning less than $25,000 a year. There’s a serious shortage of housing for the very poor, a point that Karen Lado of Enterprise Community Partners underscored to Council last week in her presentation about a proposed affordable housing strategy.

One of the goals Lado laid out was adding 300 units citywide over the next five years for these households — “particularly near transit lines and rapidly appreciating neighborhoods.”

Download 10987_PRESENTATION_AFFORDABLE_HOUSING_GOALS__384900_680294

That sounds like 505 W. Chapel Hill St.

There needs to be a public discussion on which is the wisest course to develop the land for this purpose: a City/Durham Housing Authority partnership, a nonprofit, such as Self-Help, or a private developer, albeit one that is required to allocate a percentage of the units as affordable. 

(That type of “inclusionary zoning” is illegal in North Carolina on private land, but the city has more latitude to place covenants on its parcels.)

To add urgency to this situation, consider that over the next five years, subsidies on 1,240 of 6,100 privately owned, affordable units in Durham will expire — 930 of them by the end of 2017. These units have generally been subsidized via low-income housing tax credits and Section 8 programs. The apartments/homes, many concentrated in Northeast-Central Durham, could become market-rate, thus creating an even more severe housing crisis for the poor.

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Need more urgency? Landlords are bowing out of the Section 8 program because they can charge higher market rates without having to navigate the inspections and paperwork from the Durham Housing Authority. 

There also needs to be a public discussion about the fate of the building, which needs at least $4 million worth of rehab. At one time, the building, which in the late 1950s, originally housed Home Security Life insurance company, looked swanky, with a lot of glass. But now, of the Mid-century modern style buildings downtown — the Durham Hotel, the old Jack Tar motel, for example — DPD HQ is the least attractive because of the tinted windows, security grating and other fortress-like architectural details that accompany a structure devoted to law enforcement. (O’Brien/Atkins, the architects on the new DPD HQ, have been directed: No fortress on East Main.) 

Durham Beyond Policing has valid concerns about the $81 million expenditure. But I’m ready to cry Uncle and acknowledge that a new station will be built. Yet in doing so, we should consider what can be gained on those four acres on West Chapel Hill Street. 

 

 


Affordable housing: Live blogging the Durham City Council meeting, March 10

It's a long agenda today, with several affordable housing items and a non-controversial, albeit, welcome item regarding the city's lease with Liberty Arts Foundry. The City Council is also expected to pass a resolution supporting the collective bargaining/unionization rights of non-tenure track faculty at Duke University. Download Durham City Council Work Session Agenda - March 10 2016

Note: Affordable housing discussion starts below, time listed as 2:34 p.m.

We'll blog the highlights. Note: Sometimes many minutes elapse between them.

1:03: Mayor Bill Bell wants to dedicate a full, special meeting to the affordable housing issue and presentation. Stand by: This item may not be discussed today.

1:06: Presentation will happen today, but there will be subsequent meeting to devote to it.

1:11: Briar Green Apartments, 500 Danube Lane, financed with bonds up to $19.9 million. This is in North Durham, near Hebron Road.

1:15: The City Council resolution supporting the Duke non-tenure track faculty. Cora Cole-McFadden prefers the term "endorse," but it passes unanimously.

Steve Schewel: This is 200 units for 30 percent to 60 percent AMI built by a private developer using a 4 percent tax credit. This is a tremendous win. 

1:37: Regarding an audit of city employees'  dependents' eligibility of health care benefits:

Jillian Johnson: Only 10 of 1,460 or so city employees' dependents were found not to be eligible for benefits [but receiving them.] It seems like it would cost more to do the audit

Germaine Brewington of the city: Statistically across the country, about 5 percent are ineligible. We're going to do this audit again, but a sample of 50%. It's my opinion we should do this audit every year. The results this time were favorable because of the up front work that was done.

Schewel: We found so few because 170 fewer children and 140 fewer spouses were signed up by employees who were concerned they would be found not to be eligible.

1:42: Item 6: Regarding Grants for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Enforcement

Johnson: First time I heard that we receive xxx It's becoming increasingly clear that the mass incarceration is being driven by drug policies that disproportionately affect people of color. Is use of this drug funding a priority? Should we consider continuing to accept this money?

City staff: This is money allowed to be used to coordinate law enforcement at local, state and federal level. We get $250,000 year from this office to do that.

Reece: To do what?

City staff: To do drug enforcement.

Bell: High-intensity drug trafficking can mean a lot of things to different people.

Continue reading "Affordable housing: Live blogging the Durham City Council meeting, March 10" »


The Scrap Exchange is buying 10 acres at the Lakewood Shopping Center to further its grand vision

Mural2A mural on the side of the strip mall was painted by Sandee Washington in 1998. Photos by Lisa Sorg

Note: This story has been corrected to say the strip mall is 82,000 square feet, not 130,000 square feet. 

Ann Woodward strolled down the alley behind the threadbare Lakewood Shopping Center, admiring the broken concrete and chipped brick; the rust, dilapidation, and decay.

“This is my favorite part, the back,” said Woodward, owner executive director of The Scrap Exchange, which is nearby. “It’s looks like New York City.”

Her eyes, hidden behind large, round sunglasses, suddenly spotted something lying in the dirt.

She snatched a crumpled dollar bill, straightened it and held it over her head.

“Money!” she exclaimed.

Now she and The Scrap Exchange need only $2,499,999 more.

Annsacademy

On the second floor in the rear of the strip mall, a former dance studio. 

Woodward and the board of the 25-year-old reuse and creative arts store plan to purchase 10 acres of the Lakewood Shopping Center, including a largely vacant 82,000-square-foot strip mall and its parking lot, on Chapel Hill Road. The property, owned by Fund-15 LLC out of Cornelius, North Carolina, encompasses the buildings and land north of the Food Lion building, which has separate owners.

The vision, Woodward said, is to redevelop the area into a creative reuse district that would include a sculpture park, a mall made from shipping containers in the parking lot, and leased, affordable space for local businesses, nonprofits, arts organizations (yes, there’s a stage inside), and restaurants in the former strip mall.

It would complement the existing Scrap Exchange store in the old Center Theater building, which the nonprofit purchased in 2014. The Scrap Exchange also received a $5,000 grant from the Durham Soil and Water District to dig up 2,000 square feet of asphalt parking lot and replace it with trees and green space. 

Scrapfront

“I’m a reluctant servant to this,” Woodward laughed. “I want to do my little job. But we’re confronted with the need. People need low-cost resources and jobs.”

The Scrap Exchange would charge $9 to $16 per square foot, far below the downtown rents that are approaching or exceeding $35 per square foot. Those prices are pushing small enterprises to urban neighborhoods within a mile or two of the city center. In fact, Woodward said, El Centro Hispano will be one of the district’s first new tenants. The nonprofit will be ousted from the Carpenter Building, which is slated for demolition as part of the new police station project on East Main Street. 

(Makin' Choices and Belle Amour are the only two current tenants in this portion of the shopping center.)

Arch

The Durham Co-op, the Cookery and the Southern Documentary Fund went to the West End; Ponysaurus got in on the eastern border of downtown before the gentrification started in earnest.  Lakewood, in southwest-central Durham, has long been thought to be next for the development frenzy. But with The Scrap Exchange’s substantive purchase, it’s possible that this racially and economically diverse neighborhood will thwart the displacement that often accompanies gentrification.

“It’s about getting community assets in public hands,” Woodward said. “A lot of displacement is happening.”

John

In fact, the Scrap Exchange wound up in Lakewood because of displacement. It was housed in Liberty Warehouse until the roof caved in — a result of neglect by Greenfire, then the building’s owner. The historic tobacco warehouse has since been demolished, with apartments under construction on that spot. In 2011, the shop then headed to the Cordoba Building near Golden Belt, a complex that’s also being sold. In 2014, The Scrap Exchange then purchased the old Center Theater (which by 1966, had left its downtown location) and 2.4 acres, which now includes a community garden.

The most recent acquisition has been convoluted. After two deals fell through, Woodward found a statewide funder — confidential until the papers are signed next month — willing to provide a bridge loan to The Scrap Exchange, with more financing from equity investors and a bank.

Two stairs

The project would complement local business owners who are already are encamping along Chapel Hill Road; Rhys Botica, who owns the Surf Club, The Federal and The Criterion, bought an old laundry; interior designer Heather Garrett purchased a nearby brick building. Phoebe Lawless is considering a new venture in the old Davis Baking building. 

And it’s clear that local businesses attract people from beyond the neighborhood: More than 125 visitors from throughout Durham and the Triangle, attended the grand opening of The Historic Tuba Museum last weekend.

However, monied real estate interests are also circling the neighborhood, Woodward said, with developers eyeing five acres owned by The Rescue Mission that lies behind the shopping center. (The Scrap Exchange owns one acre of land that is zoned residential; it hopes to partner with a nonprofit to build affordable housing there.)

“We want to have diversity in the fabric of this place,” she said. “How does it connect to this neighborhood?”

Behind the shopping center, a steep, tree- and vine-covered hill leads from the alley to Jersey Street. Desire lines — dirt paths created by people heading to the shopping center — streak the incline. Trash and tires dot the landscape, but Woodward sees only opportunity. Two loading docks would make it easy for businesses to receive and ship goods. The rear doors of the stores would be as welcoming as the front.

“We’ll develop it so the back is a destination,” Woodward said. 

Then she stuck the dollar bill in her pocket. 

Mural4


Election 2016: Brenda Howerton, "You have to learn to work at consensus."

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Note: Bull City Rising interviewed eight of the 10 county commission candidates running in the March primary. (Fred Foster Jr. did tell us he was out of town at a conference, but then did not respond to a subsequent message requesting an interview; Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley did not respond to emails regarding an interview.)

We are posting summary stories and full audio for each candidate. 

Here's what you need to know before you vote:

  • Ten Democratic candidates are running in the March primary for five seats on the Durham County Commission. The top five candidates will move on to the general election in November.
  • Early voting for county, state and federal offices (except U.S. House) starts Thursday, March 3; Election Day is Tuesday, March 15. Because of a federal ruling regarding the unconstitutionality of congressional maps, the U.S. House election, under new districting, is scheduled for June.

When Brenda Howerton was elected to the county commission eight years ago, her community connections were deep but her government experience had been limited to the Soil and Water Conservation Board

Now Howerton, who is running for her third term as commissioner, has accumulated experience on at least a dozen boards and commissions. 

“We are elected as individuals, but then you have to learn to govern,” says Howerton, who is vice-chair of the commission. “You have to be willing to work at getting consensus, and know that you’re there for the good of the community. It doesn’t mean we always agree on everything, but we’ve been able to respect our different views.”

In her first term, she says “I looked at way we were doing business. We didn’t have a strategic plan. I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t in place. After conversations with my colleagues and the county manager, we got one in place. It gives us a way to look at how we’re measuring results.”

As commissioner, Howerton also has influence over the local portion of public school funding. More than a third of the county budget goes to the public school system. She says the imbalance between central office and direct classroom spending — and the achievement gap between white and minority students “is very disturbing.”

“I had a conversation this weekend with a teacher and i asked her ‘What is needed to pull up our children?’” Howerton says. “She said one of the things is parental involvement. It means having some kind of instructional training for parents so they can advocate for their children.”

The school system and commissioners are drafting a memorandum of understanding, although it has not yet been released. Howerton says she recommended to county manager that a mediator may be necessary, “so we can create some real results. We have to be able to talk.”

“I wasn’t involved in the political process during the merger,” she says, “so this is the first time I’ve seen this kind of relationship get o this point. I don’t understand it at all. You can have a conversation with anybody. They may not agree, but you need to respect their views and come to middle of road.”

Howerton, who is on the Durham Crime Cabinet and other criminal justice boards, calls the recent death of an inmate at the Durham County jail, “a concern for me,” and that the commission is waiting for the results of the sheriff’s investigation. But, Howerton says, with the help of the North Carolina Association of Counties, she’ll lobby the legislature to  change state laws that allow 16- and 17-year-old to be placed in adult jails. being put in our jails. North Carolina and New York are the only two states that treat that age group as adults in the criminal justice system.

A lack of job prospects and education, coupled with generational poverty, particularly in African-American neighborhoods, have contributed to crime — and by extension, to problems at the jail.

“We don’t need children being in the streets without working,” Howerton says. “We need to create as many opportunities as possible for our young people to be working, particularly middle skill jobs.”

She would like to bring more manufacturing jobs to Durham, especially northeastern part of the county, and if necessary, use economic incentives to do so. Durham Tech, Howerton says, also should offer certifications and training specific to these jobs. 

“What are other community colleges doing that we aren’t?” says Howerton, who sits on the Durham Tech board of trustees. For example, Wake Tech has an aeronautics program. “Wake has a lot of things that I wish we had in Durham. But it’s a bigger county and has more resources. We have to continue to be innovative and see what we can do.”

 


Affordable housing, body cameras, Duke union and more: Live blogging the City Council work session

1 p.m. Council member Jillian Johnson is bring up the resolution in support of non-tenure track faculty to bargain collectively.  She is citing facts about Duke, including average student tuition of $61,000 a year, and the students' dependence on non-tenure track faculty for their coursework. Cost of living in Durham is increasing, but these faculty have no job security or raises. City of Durham is stronger when citizens have secure jobs for the long-term. The decision to unionize is solely that of the workers and not to be interfered with. 

Mayor Bell is readjusting the agenda because he has to leave at 3:20. After the Duke unionization public comments, this will be the order. Don Moffitt is also adding a resolution regarding the Human Relations Commission.

19. Poverty reduction task force

18. Rental assistance, affordable housing

20. Underground utilities permits

4. Body cameras for Durham Police Department

 

Jim Haverkamp: He is a non-tenure track faculty member. We want a seat at the table. We work semester to semester, year to year. We don't have opportunity to meet with administration and discuss this. If you'd be willing to add a voice to ours, that would be appreciated.

A man whose name I did not get: I stand in strong support of non-tenure track faculty, they provide excellent education for students despite having no job security. Their security is our security. Their stability is our stability. It's an important benefit not only for the students but the Durham community.

Mayor Bell: I've long supported the rights of labor unions. Unions tend to come in where companies refuse to provide benefits to workers. Even though we are a right to work state. However, when I look at this resolution, it's been the position of the council, if there are any figures or items that may be questionable, we want them verified. There are numbers in here, while I don't contest them, I'd like to see the source of the numbers. There are some statements that aren't pertinent, such as Duke's exemption from $8.5 million in property taxes because they are nonprofits. The gist of what I see is that the resolution that mayor and City Council support Duke non-tenure track to unionize. I support that, just not the entire resolution. 

We have a letter from Phail Wynn (vice president of Durham and regional affairs): Duke will support their legal right to unionize, but it will provide information and communicate with employees. [This is in reference to union supporters' statement that Duke has provided misleading information about the effects of a union.]

Bell: I think it would be more appropriate to have a letter from Council to Duke president supporting the right to unionize, not a resolution.

Moffitt has a question for Jim Haverkamp: I heard you say "contingent faculty," is that the bargaining unit?

Haverkamp: Non-tenure track, adjunct, lecturers. Many of us work year to year or semester to semester.

Moffitt: The resolution supports the effort to organize, but another line says "endorses the right to organize." There's a difference. I strongly endorse the right to organize, but I believe that the decision belongs solely to the workers. I would like to add a friendly amendment saying "effort."

Bell: I don't expect us to vote on this today.

Cora Cole-McFadden: Concerned about the unionization pamphlet being handed out because there is a lack of sensitivity to all races, lack of diversity in the photos. I haven't had time to read it. I'm troubled by the lack of representation.

Johnson: There is supplemental information about diversity and gender pay gap.

Steve Schewel: I'm a non-tenure faculty at Duke. I'm a visiting assistant professor. I have signed the union card. I asked Patrick Baker, city attorney, if I should recuse myself.

Baker: There's a conflict of interest if this would improve your position or financial relationship. This resolution doesn't do this. You may ultimately benefit, but none of your decisions right now would directly influence this. 

Schewel: I think there are many non-tenure track faculty at Duke who don't have the situation I do, so I'm very supportive.

Eddie Davis: Supports the unionization effort and collective bargaining. I would like to see this resolution polished.

Charlie Reece: For my own part, I would vote to approve the resolution as it is today, but I appreciate concerns of council, and look forward to voting on a revised revolution that reflects those.

Bell speaking with Johnson: Work with administration and city attorney's office to word the resolution. It should come back to a work session.

Cole-McFadden: I do want to say that I support unions.

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Durham CAN's public subsidy tour: a beginner's guide to tax incentives, diversity and affordable housing downtown

Fayetteplace_1_032214

Photo by Gary Kueber; courtesy OpenDurham.org

 

This post has been corrected to reflect that the option on Fayette Place expires in August 2017, not this year.

It is only 1.2 miles from downtown Durham to the old Fayette Place, the former housing project at the gateway to the historic Hayti neighborhood. Last Saturday morning, about 40 people took a three-minute bus ride to see what many view only from the highway.

“It looks like an archaeological dig,” a man said.

“This is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” added a woman, who was trying to photograph the desolation with her smartphone.

But a camera cannot capture the blightscape of the 19 acres at Fayetteville and Umstead streets, near the Durham Freeway. Encased by a chain-link fence, the property is scarred with dozens of concrete slab foundations and crumbling brick steps that once went to front doors and now lead to nowhere.

From the highway, the land looks like it has been flattened by a bomb. From the street, it is a constant and embarrassing reminder of the neglect in this predominantly African-American neighborhood.

“If this were in any other neighborhood, there’s no way it would have been allowed to lay like this,” said the Rev. William Lucas, pastor of nearby First Chronicles Community Church. The group had disembarked the bus at Grant and Merrick streets, an eerily isolated block embedded between the abandoned property and the freeway. “This area can go from one to 100 in a second,” Lucas said of the crime in the neighborhood. “It’s real serious here.”

The occasion for the bus ride to this and other prime real estate in and near downtown was the Durham CAN public subsidy tour. About 200 people gathered to learn about the evolution of downtown development, its opportunities for affordable housing, and the market forces and the public subsidies and tax incentives that shape its future.

That future, everyone agreed, should include a downtown made vibrant by racial and economic diversity.

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