Durham's Northgate Mall -- where are we going?
Durham's Parks & Wreck

We Want Oprah... to bring her bulldozer

A very interesting article in today's N&O business section by real estate writer Jack Hagel with help from Jim Wise: the old Jack Tar Motel now owned by landlord-of-dubious-repute Ronnie Sturdivant and featuring the groanworthy "We Want Oprah" sign, narrowly escaped the jaws of foreclosure thanks to a bailout from an interesting source--

A $150,000 loan from Hank Scherich, president of Measurement Inc. and re-developer of many properties throughout the old Durham Athletic Park district. Depending on how you look at it, the Oprah building will either be floating along for a while longer with Sturdivant's hand on the wheel (probably not a great thing for downtown), or is one step closer to eventually falling into the hands of a new local owner, in this case Scherich... which would not be a bad piece of news at all.

Hagel and Wise cover the topic well so I'll refer you to their piece to get the full story. It's interesting that Sturdivant wants the building, if redeveloped, to become part of the resurrection of Parrish Street, known in the early 20th century as America's black Wall Street and one-time home to M&F Bank, NC Mutual Life, and other earlier pioneers of African-American financial institutions.

Personally, I find it depressing to mentally juxtapose Parrish Street's incredible history with the current lack of acumen of the current site owners, whose other building (the Urban Opportunity Center on W. Chapel Hill St.) focuses on a far less grandiose financial institution -- the "Campaign for Wealth" website (www.1hope.ws), which looks on its face to be nothing more than a multi-level marketing program.

Greenfire Development has promised a museum on the history of Parrish Street as part of a skyscraper they hope to build on the site they control at Parrish/Corcoran/Main, across from the Oprah building. As Hagel and Wise point out, they'd love to have the old Jack Tar Motel too, which when partnered with the Hill Building they're redeveloping into a boutique hotel would give them the ability to some interesting things in that part of town.

But whether they end up with the property, or Scherich, or someone else -- the right way to honor the memory of the real entrepreneurs who built Parrish Street will come not simply from a museum to the past, but in transforming an eyesore that weighs on the Durham community into something that the entire community can be proud of.



If that sign comes down and that hideous facade can get a redo then it will be the absolute best day in the history of Durham.

Mrs Steel

I find it interesting that you say that Parrish Street was, "known in the early 20th century as America's black Wall Street" because I have heard the very same thing said of Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Could they have shared this title?


I think the one in Tulsa is the Real Thing. I do not think the name, as applied to Durham, was used at the time the street flourished. I think Jim Wise said something about this in one of his columns in the N&0. It would be interesting to see if anyone can find contemporaneous usages of "Black Wall Street".


Go Hank!

I've often thought that a great public service would be some kind of major distraction on the Sturdivant family for the 48 hours before a foreclosure, when they (are reputed to) typically scramble together a money delivery.

Some movies must have used this plot line in the past: "sorry, Mr. Bad Person, but you're too late to file your payment. It looks like the orphanage gets to move to their new and beautiful home."


Jim Wise's article: http://www.thedurhamnews.com/123/story/685.html


I'm sorry, but Hank Scherich should be drawn and quartered. The Oprah building and the hideous Urban Merchant Center are two of the biggest eyesores and blemishes in Durham. The Sturdivants are hucksters and frauds, as their repeated run-ins with the law attest. Scherich obviously doesn't give a rats ass about Durham or he wouldn't support this drain on the community.

The Urban Merchant Center is one of the biggest factors holding back positive development in the West End, and Scherich just voted to keep letting Sturdivant fuck around.

Thanks for setting back the Durham renaissance another 5 years, Hank.


I would say it is the absolute biggest eyesore in the whole Triangle. The cafe there is nice, but everything else there with the oprah sign and all, are trash. I mean in regards to TJ Phat Wear, I am around that area at least a couple of times a week and I have never once seen someone leave that place with a purchase in a bag yet people go in and out there all the time. It makes me wonder what they are selling? This Hank fella better have something up his sleave and hopefully soon.

Michael Bacon

Max: Before jumping to conclusions too quickly, let's see if Hank got a leash on Sturdivant out of the deal. And 5 years isn't the key number here. Sturdivant is late on his taxes every year, so all this sets us back is 1 year, at most.

mike: It's a big eyesore, alright, but I'd still put it behind SouthBank and the City Hall Annex for the downtown prize.


I've been inspired to write Oprah a little letter on oprah.com:



For the historical record, here is an excerpt from the News & Observer's 1 Sep 2008 coverage of Sturdivant's murder:

" Hank Scherich, founder of the test-grading company Measurement Inc., got to know Sturdivant more than a decade ago when their sons attended Riverside High School together. In recent months, he had mentored Sturdivant on business matters.

"He hardly needed mentoring," Scherich said. "He was a good businessman himself."

About a year ago, Scherich loaned Sturdivant money so that he could settle debt on a commercial property at 202 N. Corcoran St. in Durham's core. It's known as the "Oprah building" because of large sign that reads "We Want Oprah!!!" Sturdivant had mounted a campaign to lure the talk show host to the Bull City.

Through the years, Sturdivant ran into financial difficulties several times. In 1999, for instance, a bank threatened to sell more than a dozen properties he owned with his wife, Dianne, to pay thousands of dollars on mortgages.

"Near as I can tell, he's always paid his debts, even though sometimes he was behind in his debts and had trouble with them," Scherich said. "He had tried some business ventures that didn't work and had some negative publicity associated with them, but Ronnie was very fair."

And he had big ambitions. He wanted to redevelop the Corcoran property into a signature building for downtown, Scherich said.

"He realized he needed help to do that," Scherich said. "But he wanted to be known for having led that effort and for a black man creating something significant in downtown Durham. I thought that was a noble dream."

-- from Durham Entrepreneur Fatally Shot: Ronnie Sturdivant Owned the Old Temporary Quarters and the 'Oprah Building.' Jonathan Cox, 1 Sept 2008, News & Observer.

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