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June 2007

Durham & Duke: New web site fans flames of ignorance

Ever wonder where the stereotypes of Duke-Durham tensions (which I find, personally, to be highly overrated and inaccurate) come from?

You'll be dis-pleased to know, prospective admits and their parents can get their share of misinformation and falsehoods even before they arrive on campus, thanks to theU. TheU is a startup that encourages high-schoolers to "hook up" with the right college, and whose website features a matchmaker tool to allow you to select the right U for you on criteria ranging from Greek Life (none vs. animal house) to Guys (dogs vs. studs) to Drug Scene (straight edge vs. Bobby Brown). Yes, you can now choose a college based on how high the students are, not just how highly it's ranked.

Nauseated yet? Wait, there's more -- you haven't even seen their Duke video, which purports to tell you "the setting" of Duke U:

For those who aren't down with the YouTube or who don't have time to watch the above vid, here are a few of the groaners it contains:

  • Notes the setting of Duke University as "Suburban" (huh?)
  • ...followed by the claim that the campus is beautiful, "but as for the town, not so much."
  • A single voiceover from one student telling us, "'s kind of a poor area of North Carolina, it gets perceived as very dangerous," overlaid on top of a couple of downtown empty storefronts and pictures of a Duke University Security car and the Durham PD headquarters. (Mind you, with only a single brief shot of Ninth Street, with no recognizable businesses.)
  • "But don't worry, Duke's actual grounds are the poster-child for gorgeous American campuses," we're reassured. The video then spends almost a minute talking about the Duke Forest and Duke Gardens, instead of the town itself. (Along with an odd sidenote about the Duke Forest being perfect for 'smoking the ganja.')
  • The kicker? The final slide, which claims that the closest major city is "Charlotte, NC (150+ miles away)."

My thoughts? Someone over at theU was smoking some ganja when they put this together. Of course, looking the vids from my alma mater and some other schools, it's clear that their view of American higher education is superficial at best, pandering at worst. Then again, when the best you can do for an Executive Producer is to hire the annoying kid from the failed WB series Everwood, you're not hitting it out of the park on the rep meter.

N. Durham Harris Teeter starts construction "real soon now" - Starbucks now open

A reader recently asked about the status of the oft-delayed new Harris Teeter for North Durham, proposed for the old Willowdaile 8 cinema site across from HT's current home at Horton and Guess. Well, I checked in with the store this week and was given a construction start date of August.

Somehow, at this point, put me in the I'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it category on this one, given that several start dates have come and gone for the new HT. I'd expect to see much of 2008 gone before North Durhamites can shop at the new, larger store -- a wait made more annoying by the 2005 closure of the Northgate HT, which has together left the northern part of the city lacking for a really good grocery store. (On the plus side, the Kroger at North Pointe has been remodeled. On the minus side, the level of customer service there is still woefully lacking.)

Today's N&O reports that the new Starbucks has opened at Horton and Guess, though, in the home of the old Burger King. I'm impressed they got this finished so soon, since on my last visit through a month ago there was a ton of construction work still going on. Expect the ex-Dunkin' Donuts (which apparently went through some sort of bloody franchise battle with the Dunkin' corporate) to face some interesting challenges against the beast from Seattle. That said, if you're looking for great coffee and want to patronize the locals: take the drive down Guess or Hillandale and visit Broad Street Cafe or Joe Van Gogh's instead, both of which offer free WiFi and much better coffee.

In other North Durham retail news, there have been some rumblings that Equity One was looking to bring a grocer in to the old Loehmann's Plaza at Hillandale and Front St. near I-85. Now rechristened Croasdaile Crossings, the strip center has a too-high vacancy rate, given the closure of Loehmann's, Vickers Clothiers, and the Hallmark Store, along with the move of Sal's across the street to become Pomodoro's. That said, from retailer perspective the demographics of the area are exceptionally good, and there are some locally-owned or -franchised businesses with loyal patronage, such as BookDabbler and the Dry Cleaning Station.

Durham PD search: Saunders; the head, Hodge?

In case you missed it: in his Tuesday N&O column, Barry Saunders took an interesting spin on the Durham Police Department chief search:

"Hire Ron Hodge, cuz he can whoop his kid."

OK, it's something of a simplification of Saunders' point befitting the half-joking threat I've made with some friends (namely, to start reducing John McCann's columns to haiku form here at BCR, since his often-illogical arguments could usually be stated far more coherently in a mere 17 syllables, without losing any meaning. McCann, to put it bluntly, can't carry the esteemed Saunders' keyboard where writing skill is concerned.)

After all, Saunders is trying to make two deeper arguments in his column: namely, that parental discipline is a major issue in impoverished communities, and that there are lots of people in Durham and elsewhere who'd say, better harsh discipline than none at all. I agree with him on his first point; ask me about his second point once I actually have kids. Saunders' bottom line seems to be, this guy does what it takes to get things done

Somehow, I hope that Patrick Baker's decision-making process extends further than this one item from Hodge's record. (Either in his favor or in his detriment, given that Hodge was cleared of the matter at the time, in a matter in which Baker himself represented Hodge.)

Which brings up the greater point: is it time for new leadership in the DPD? Hodge certainly represents the status quo, given Chalmers' absences over the past year.

Continue reading "Durham PD search: Saunders; the head, Hodge?" »

Durham Centre goes under Craig Davis' ownership

Jack Hagel reported in today's N&O that the Durham Centre, that albatross on the Durham skyline, has been sold by its out-of-state owners to Craig Davis Properties for a below-market rate of $19.2 million. That price, Hagel tells us, is about 45% below the norm for comparable Triangle buildings.

Durhamcentre As we reported on here earlier this year, the Durham Centre's immediate problem is its lack of occupancy. The tower is rife with open spaces and a vacancy rate that accounts for almost half of the building's space. Hagel attributes this to competition from American Tobacco and credits its campus amenities as the reason why Ambacco can charge a market-premium rate and sit fully-occupied while Durham Centre is half-empty at a bargain rate.

The problem is indeed one of amenities, from a proximal perspective -- but the root cause of that problem goes to the very design of the tower.

The tower rises up over a poorly designed, hulking parking deck that brings a shine to automotive glory to the very edge of the sidewalk. Street level retail's not an option unless, as Michael has suggested, you find a way to slot in stores into the structure parking (no easy task.) Complicating matters, the deck's presence means you have to take an elevator or several flights of stairs just to get to the lobby of the building.

Translation: restaurants and shopping have a hard time in the Durham Centre because the rest of downtown can't get to them, and once you factor in the freeway frenzy of the downtown loop that separates the Centre from downtown, it's not so convenient or obvious for Centre office workers to leave the building for a quick stroll, either. Which makes it a far less attractive place to work than sites like Ambacco or West Village.

Continue reading "Durham Centre goes under Craig Davis' ownership" »

P&O in today's N&O

In case you missed it, Greg Cox has a good if short piece in today's News & Observer on Parker & Otis:

I'd say the place is off to a good start, based on the enthusiasm and experience of owner Jennings Brody, whose resume includes work at Williams-Sonoma and Foster's Market in Chapel Hill. Most recently, Brody worked for a gourmet food distributor, where her fondness for candy grew into a full-blown passion.

"We have a ton of candy," she says, by which she means more than 100 varieties ranging from Gummi Bears to exotically spiced Vosges chocolates. The store also sells a broad range of gourmet groceries, including imported olive oils, Maple View Farm dairy products, Counter Culture coffees, fresh produce, and an impressive selection of wines and beers (which Brody also describes as "a ton." I'm guessing she wasn't a math major). For those wishing to dine in, Parker and Otis serves breakfast and lunch (the curried chicken salad and grilled pimento cheese sandwich are early favorites) in a newly converted dining room or on the porch.

If you haven't stopped in, you should give it a try, particularly as Brody works to add new items over time to the store. Personally, I was not a fan of the old Fowler's, which always had this funerary air to it to it when I walked in, like a cafe ensconced inside library stacks or what-have-you. Though I've heard the new decor described with less than affection as a more 'Southern Living' theme, personally I prefer the brighter, more airy look of the white cabinetry inside the new store.

One other plus: the staff Brody has picked are uniformly friendly and helpful, something that can't be said about retail in general, anywhere.

Give 'em a try next time you're driving up Duke St. or happen to be around Brightleaf.

DCVB: Durham loves itself, Wake wants to "just be friends"

Durham's convention and visitor bureau released highlights from its annual survey of Durham (and neighboring Triangle area) residents on life in the Bull City, from data on feelings of community pride to safety and perception.

Although I think sometimes city boosters can get a bit breathless in their relentless optimism for Durham -- anyone at the downtown plan charette who saw a Downtown Durham Inc. rep say with a straight face that Wittenberg's The Renaissance at Durham Centre would break ground in 2007 knows what I mean -- I think the DCVB deserves credit for speaking to issues of perception that few leaders dare to.

Unsurprisingly, the surveys again found that folks who live in Durham have a much higher opinion of the Bull City than those who don't. We touched last month on what could be one cause of this -- namely, data on in-migration patterns that show that suburbanites from Long Island, Cobb County, Tampa Bay and the like pick the more economically-exclusive world of Wake County in droves, while city-dwellers from NY, DC, Chicago and the like are more likely to end up in Durham statistically speaking.

Durham is pretty clearly an urban environment, and I suspect to some extent, folks who chose not to live here were rejecting their stereotypes of what a diverse, integrated city is as much as the reality. That's borne out in the DCVB's data, which finds that although Orange County residents have positive opinions of Durham by a 4:1 ratio, and Wake residents by a 2:1 ratio, more than 50% of the residents polled would "expect a negative experience" in Durham, if they listened to what others say about the Bull City.

Continue reading "DCVB: Durham loves itself, Wake wants to "just be friends"" »

Another new downtown restaurant, or, Revolution at the Baldwin

Looks like this is Greenfire Development's week for downtown restaurant announcements. According to a loyal BCR reader, Greenfire held a reception on the 15th floor of the Hill/CCB/SunTrust building during Durham Rising this past weekend.

At the event, postcards were distributed hawking "Revolution," a new restaurant set to open in December 2007 in the first floor of the Baldwin Lofts building discussed here on the blog yesterday. According to the source, the chef is formerly of Il Palio, the four-diamond Italian restaurant at the Siena Hotel in Chapel Hill.

A quick web search confirms that Jim Anile -- until relatively recently the executive chef at Il Palio, and before that chef at The Melrose in Dallas -- has registered the web site "" in his own name. No page posted at the present, but combined with last week's announcement of Charlie Deal's Dos Perros coming to another Greenfire building, it looks like the Lemanskites have been busy closing deals of late. (And as with Dos Perros, the timing of this opening seems no accident, allowing the new Revolution to gear up its menu and service ahead of the spring/summer rush.)

Of course, as the comments on yesterday's post demonstrated, the addition of three new upscale restaurants with nary a mid-priced option joining them may be great for evening diners and performing arts center patrons... but downtown also needs to attract (and retain) folks like the late, lamented W. Main Street Deli in order to provide options across price ranges, both for office drones at lunchtime and to meet the broader community's needs.

(Speaking of which, has anyone been by the Five Points Cafe yet? Anyone know if it opened up successfully last week?)

Durham's North-South Greenway: Complete, at last

This morning's Herald-Sun contains a good accounting of the fits-and-starts progress of South Durham's C.M. Herndon Park near Southpoint, which opens Thursday a staggering eight years after it was first proposed, and two years after its scheduled completion date.

(Lesson for Durhamites: if you want a park for your kids to frolic in, don't wait until they're old enough to walk... pretend its an exclusive prep-school kindergarten with a pre-natal waiting list, and pipe up early!)

North Durham's had its own share of delayed park projects coming to fruition of late, including the opening of the new dog park in the Northgate Park neighborhood. Chalk another one onto the "done" column -- the 'missing link' sidewalk segment along Stadium Drive between North Duke St. and Broad St. is finally done.

The concrete's so fresh you can still see the spray-paint marks from the construction crews, but the good news is that this means -- with little hurry, and less fanfare -- the North-South Greenway is at long last complete along its current build-out through Durham. Of course, it is slated to eventually extend north to the Eno River, but for now, from Horton Road in north Durham to NC 54 near The Streets at Southpoint, there's a continuous greenway or sidewalk trail link.

Continue reading "Durham's North-South Greenway: Complete, at last" »

Update: Durham Kress condos

One of the pleasant, if less-publicized, attractions of this weekend's Durham Rising celebration was the opportunity it afforded to get tours of Greenfire's two residential properties downtown, the Baldwin Lofts apartments and the Kress Building condos. (A few attendees, yours truly included, ended up getting a personal tour from the man behind the curtain, Michael Lemanski himself -- a gracious host, though no more forthcoming with details on Greenfire's vaunted master plan than he has been in other forums.)

Kress Both are relatively small properties -- the Kress for its part only has fourteen units -- and each makes use of former retailer space in the heart of Durham's core.  The Baldwin was one of Durham's finest department stores in its heyday; the Kress, for its part, was the five-and-dime shop appealing to Durham's middle-class factory workers and tobacconists.

Today, they're both upscale residential options, with the Baldwin Lofts apartments running between $1,100 and $1,800 per month to lease and the largest Kress condos on the market for over a half-million dollars.

The Baldwin Lofts were Lemanski and Greenfire's first project in downtown, and at the time, local banks were skeptical, to say the least, on the market viability of urban projects in the Bull City.  Greenfire's initial funding for purchase and renovation of the Baldwin came from Self-Help, which often funds projects unable to receive market funding from traditional banks. (Of course, American Tobacco was in precisely the same boat several years back too -- and like the Ambacco of today, I suspect Greenfire has no trouble getting commercial financing now, either.)

Fast-forward a couple of years, and the Baldwin Lofts are almost fully leased, and include a wide range of tenants, including (at least as of earlier this year) new Durhamite Frank Stasio, late of NPR and the current host of "The State of Things" for WUNC, which originates from the Jim Goodmon-donated space in American Tobacco. For its part, the Kress condos are almost entirely sold out or reserved. Precisely three units remain in the complex:

  • 206/306, a two-level, 1,130 sq. ft. unit (bedroom below, living above) on the southwestern corner with views of American Tobacco and the ballpark, for $322,050.
  • 302/402, another two-level unit and at just under 2,000 square feet the largest remaining unit, for $589,500.
  • 404, an 1,850 sq. ft. unit on the top floor with private patio, for $499,500.

One of the questions that seems to follow hot on the heels of any discussion of downtown residential projects is, "Who's buying or renting these?" And to be fair, other than the success of West Village's apartments, the few housing units that are truly downtown -- by which I mean inside the abominable downtown loop -- have been built largely one-off over the years, nestled above shops here or offices there.

The Baldwin and Kress represent two of the first real large-scale attempts to add significant numbers of units inside the loop. As they go, so goes the neighborhood; for better, one must hope.

More on Dos Perros restaurant at Rogers Alley

A thanks again to readers for the initial tip on the new restaurant from the owner of Chapel Hill's Jujube, and for the scoop on the new restaurant's name, Dos Perros.

Charlie Deal, the new restaurant's owner, was present at Durham Rising at a special booth celebrating his new dining venture. Deal confirmed that Dos Perros Taqueria and Bar is slated to open in early 2008 over at Rogers Alley, the old fire station under renovation by Greenfire Development. Dos Perros represents Greenfire's first big win in bringing in a new restaurant/retail option to one of the buildings they've acquired downtown. With dinner entrees ranging from $12-30, Dos Perros also fits the same niche as Chapel Hill St.'s Rue Cler, which has enjoyed quite a bit of success as the pioneering upscale restaurant inside the loop.

The timing of Dos Perros' opening comes as no surprise -- the renovation schedule for Rogers Alley aside, the start date positions the restaurant perfectly to gear up in time for next spring's opening of the Durham Performing Arts Center, and for the concomitant re-opening of the Bulls for the '08 season.  Given Dos Perros' location just north of the DPAC right at Mangum and Parrish Streets, in sight of and a short walk from the new theater, the restaurant looks to be just one of what I suspect will be many dining options to sprout up in anticipation of additional traffic downtown.

At the same time, given the seasonality of downtown dining -- except for Tyler's, which stays busy all year round, the American Tobacco restaurants' dinner crowds are noticeably heavier on Bulls game nights -- a winter opening helps avoid some lean months while still being ready to capitalize on the arrival of the new theater.

Besides dinner, according to the pre-opening menu Dos Perros will also be open for lunch Mondays through Saturdays, featuring daily specials like Yucatan-style pork and pan-roasted snapper, along with a wide range of tacos befitting the taqueria concept. Tacos alone will range from $2-3, with larger-portion taco platters and other lunch entrees running $8-12. Seafood, chicken and beef will all be on the menu for dinnr as well, along with at least a couple of vegetarian entrees.