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August 2007

Coming soon -- Durham: A Self-Portrait

Coming not long on the heels of the announced premiere of the Rousse-Durham documentary in September comes word that another film study involving the Bull City will be premiering in November at the Carolina Theatre.

The scope this time? A self-described "reflection on Durham's history" that encompasses a look at the city through the eyes of people who've seen it grow and change over the years. The film is laid out in three acts -- a look at Durham's transformation from open fields to industrial giant, the defiance of segregation and institutional racism in the post-War period, and the revitalization of Durham in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Durham: A Self-Portrait is being produced by Steven Channing, a Durhamite and documentary film maker whose works include Alamance and America's 400th Anniversary. The documentary is being produced to "national broadcast quality" and will have a companion educational video/teaching guide.

Check out the project's web site for more on the film and some trailers/outtakes. Kudos to Reyn Bowman's blog for the tip on this project.

CHOW web mag interviews Magnolia Grill's Ben Barker

The once-print, now web-based publication CHOW (home, among other things, to the well-read Chowhound message boards) has now published an interview with Ben Barker, co-owner of the popular and acclaimed Magnolia Grill in Durham. Check out the interview here.

CHOW spoke with Barker on one of the restaurant's annual vacation closings, with the chef and his co-owner/pastry chef wife Karen enjoying some R&R down on the N.C. coast.

Best news in the entire article is the absence of any plans to wind things down with the Durham institution anytime soon:

You almost become integral to the way people mark time in their lives: 21st birthdays and 20th anniversaries. You almost appreciate their mundane predictability. They’re what justify your existence, in a way. We’re going to keep running this joint.

No argument here, folks.

Durham: From really walkable to auto-only

A couple of folks have pointed me lately to WalkScore, a new web site that purports to tell you exactly how walkable a particular address is, as measured on a 1-100 scale. It's a Google Maps mashup where they search Google for certain types of businesses and institutions -- restaurants, schools, libraries, bookstores, theaters, museums, and so forth -- and use the number and type of these they return to determine exactly how walkable an area is.

A score from 70-90 ranks an area as 'very walkable' -- 90 and above, and you can get away without owning a car, WalkScore estimates. A 25-50 score means you have few places to hoof it to, and below 25 means you're either a car owner or a shut-in.

I decided to do a little experiment and check out a few places from throughout Durham to see whether they're better fits for Nikes or Nissans.

Tops I could get in the Bull City was right at the city's traditional heart -- the intersection of Main and Corcoran, which scored a whopping 97. If anything, though, this shows some of the flaws of assembling a score from the parts but neglecting a whole. Downtown does have an increasing number of restaurants and stores -- not to mention residents -- but lacks grocery stores and other accouterments of an urban city center. It can be a great place to live, and you can do quite a bit without a car (especially if you work near downtown), but I think you'd be hard-pressed to get away without one anywhere in the city.

Continue reading "Durham: From really walkable to auto-only " »

Reminder: Durham's library hours change next week

Durham's library hours change permanently next Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. Traditionally, Durham's libraries were open on Sunday only during the school year. Now the main library and the North, East, and Southwest branches will be open year-round on Sundays -- 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., to be precise.

To account for the change, the library will adopt shorter Friday hours (2 p.m. to 6 p.m. as well). The libraries will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

The Parkwood and Stanford L. Warren branches will have the same Monday through Saturday hours but will be closed on Sundays.

Kudos to the library system for looking at their hours and being open to change. With the library engaged in reviewing its strategic plans and especially the future of the downtown branch, it's good to see some positive changes happening even now.

BCR to Chronicle: Editing a column means someone should actually read it

It's not a great media-relations plan to take on the campus newspaper, especially after it's written a story that really and truly is trying to sing the praises of Durham. But after Tuesday's op-ed piece on the Bull City, I'm afraid I can't really resist a word back to the West Campus Winchells.

The occasion? A column hopefully titled "Duke and Durham: One Love" by columnist Aria Branch. Check it out if you haven't read it yet.

Branch's thesis: That Durham really is a great place to be, and students should make the most of their time in the Bull City. OK, so I like her column from its main conceit. But things go downhill, well, almost immediately.

The column opens with Branch recounting one of her professors defending Durham from a detractor in class-- (N.B.: emphasis added is mine throughout)

But then, the professor interjected, saying "Wait a second, don't bash this city, I live here and I'm raising my family here."

This was a particularly revealing moment for me because it made me really think-our professors, many of whom are in the elite class of academia, are members of the Durham community. And a lot of them are a part of the population, as small as it may be, who think Durham isn't half bad.

Small? If you live in Wake County, maybe, but that's certainly not reflective of the most recent opinion survey data. Or, er, any of the data that's come out in the past several years.

If I'm honest with myself, I know that Durham really isn't all bad-there are many unique aspects of Durham that I like. I sense that with a little eye-opening, we can all begin to take as much pride in our community as we do in our school or basketball team.

Great news -- Durham isn't all bad. Terrific! Now I won't have to cut down I-40 all the way to US 1 and up to Henderson every time I drive from Greensboro to Richmond. I was always afraid of mawing pits of darkness creating an interminable despair in my heart.

Continue reading "BCR to Chronicle: Editing a column means someone should actually read it" »

Studebaker Bldg. re-developer turns to 1000 W. Main

Ivy_1970s Some more good news for the downtown area: a downtown developer has turned his sights on 1000 W. Main, the vacant two-story building next to the Federal that once housed Durham's well-loved Ivy Room restaurant (seen at right).

Reynolds Maxwell was most recently part of the team that brought the old Studebaker building back to life these past couple of years, turning the former home of the Weeping Radish brewpub and some more recent, less successful offerings into the new southeastern U.S. offices for the Ogilvy ad agency. In tackling 1000 W. Main, the plan for Maxwell's Headwall Development is to revitalize a building that has set empty since a Pizza Hut moved out a few years ago -- a far cry from the building's potential, particularly in the fast-growing Brightleaf area.

1000wmain_today Current plans are for an interior gut and reconstruction, including restoring the facade and updating the building's windows. The developer can parcel out the 8,400 sq. ft. of gross space in a number of configurations (including, possibly, full utilization of both stories by a single tenant), but he's currently targeting one to three office suites on the second floor and three 1,250 sq. ft. retail spaces on the ground floor, with tenant improvement (TI) allowances for lessee upfit. Interior demolition work is currently underway at the building.

One of the things I think is a real plus in these rehab plans is the opportunity small retail spaces can offer to local businesses, who typically can't afford to lease up the ever-larger storefronts pushed by big commercial developers. (To put things in perspective, 1,250 sq. ft. is about one-thirtieth the size of a Best Buy big-box store.) Assuming the building leases up this way, the presence of lots of small retail slots close to downtown increases the number and diversity of retailers and can enrich the shopping experience -- just as we see already today inside Brightleaf Square, or on Ninth Street.

It's great to see another underutilized building come under redevelopment, continuing the revitalization creeping down Main St. towards Duke's East Campus. Given the crowds that the Federal, James Joyce, Devine's and Alivia's already draw along the street, it will be interesting to see the kind of businesses that take hold in 1000 W. Main and to bring additional energy to a popular part of the Bull City.

Today's news: Pigs fly, FOD endorses Catotti

My jaw dropped more than a few inches when I read the endorsements from the Friends of Durham, as announced on the N&O's Bull's Eye blog:

  • Laney Funderburk -- no surprise, as the VP of the GOPs in Durham County.
  • Eugene Brown -- the eyebrows didn't go up too much on this one, though Brown's no right-winger.
  • Diane Catotti. Yes, Catotti -- former head of the People's Alliance, a rival organization to the Friends of Durham.

Well, I didn't see that coming. Catotti's rep has long been as a progressive, with membership in Durham C.A.N., the N.A.A.C.P., and the Million Mom March all on her resume. Seven other candidates to choose from, and they picked her. Most unexpected.

It's going to be an interesting election season, this one.

Durham County open space grants - applications due October 5

A quick PSA on behalf of Durham's county government: the Durham Open Space & Trails' matching grants program has funds available to help non-profits preserve open space or create/improve recreational opportunities in the county limits.

These popular grants have a wide range of possible uses; non-profits like neighborhood associations, PTAs, scouting troops, and other organizations have used these to update playground equipment at Durham schools, to add play equipment to a neighborhood lot, add a nature trail in an open area, etc. The Farmer's Market Pavilion in Central Park received one of these grants a couple of years ago, as did Forest Hills' neighborhood association for a walking trail; so have the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association (for park improvements) and the Eno River Association (for land preservation.)

Hey, it's your tax dollars -- here's a chance to set the agenda and get 'em spent on an open space project you want to see.

If you're interested in learning more, visit this Durham County web site for more information.

Kids in the locker room: Y not?

I got a note last week from a friend in the neighborhood who swims with her two young daughters at the downtown YMCA. Finding the family changing rooms occupied, she decided to use the regular women's locker room, only to be told that children between the ages of four and fifteen can't enter the locker rooms of the Y, even accompanied by their parents. She and her two children waited in vain for ten minutes for one of the two family restrooms to open up

An email exchange with Bryan Huffman, executive director of the Durham YMCAs, revealed the following thinking:

Our primary goal is to prevent any potential of sexual abuse or misconduct from occurring to children.  Protecting our youngest members is our utmost importance.  While no known misconduct has occurred at the Downtown YMCA, we are not willing to take that chance.  Statistics show that locker rooms, specifically shower areas, are one of the leading public locations that child sex abuse occurs.  By allowing children and adults to shower side by side is inviting predatory behavior to occur.  The YMCA cannot tolerate that risk.  We care too much about children to allow it.


We are currently exploring a more complete solution, which is to build several more family locker rooms as well as add restrooms to the Downtown YMCA.  At this time, I do not know when these additions will arrive as our Board of Advisors is currently evaluating all three of the Durham YMCA facilities and their needs.  I am expecting a recommendation from this group by November, which should include the new additions at Downtown.  Unfortunately, the decision can not arrive sooner as their recommendation deals with a much larger issue – the future of the Lakewood YMCA as a whole.

Apparently, this new policy -- about ten months old -- has raised a hue and cry from a number of downtown Y members who've brought their kids to the YMCA for years and taken them into the regular locker rooms to get changed. Four new temporary changing stations have been added on the pool deck, too, but none of these contain showers or other bath facilities.

Continue reading "Kids in the locker room: Y not?" »

H-S scoops the rest of the media on lacrosse suit story?

First, the meta-story before the story itself: Tip of the hat to the Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg for scooping the rest of the media on the lacrosse suit story appearing in today's news. Gronberg's piece hit the Herald-Sun web site at 1:40pm this afternoon, nicking the N&O by almost three hours and TV outlets by even more.

Gronberg remains the best-in-class for beat reporters covering the Bull City. Sometimes the intraday work doesn't get the press it deserves, since the Herald-Sun as an organization is rather sluggish at posting new news during the day, while the N&O recently revamped their web site to explicitly focus on within-the-day breaking news and blog posts.

In any case, someone down on Pickett Road found the "Print to Web..." option and the story made it up mid-day. Anyone who watched last Monday's Council meeting had to wonder about the closed session at its conclusion; congrats to Gronberg for apparently being the first to teast out the truth.

Now to the actual story itself. As I've stated here before, this blog isn't about the lacrosse case, an event that has already gotten a more-than-disproportionate share of national news. That said, the potential for lawsuits against the City and the potential impact on the blue-ribbon panel that's supposed to be getting to the bottom of where the City may have made mistakes is daunting.

Still, I have to ask -- why start with the City government instead of the man himself, Mike Nifong? Admittedly, Nifong's pockets aren't too deep at this point in time, but he's an elected employee of the state, whose coffers most certainly are. I am not a lawyer, so I can't speak with any certainty about how this would all work, but it would seem that suing the Attorney General of N.C. (not personally, but in his capacity as the responsible elected official over the justice system) would be the right place to start. (I'm genuinely curious about this -- anyone with more legal chops have any thoughts on this choice of action?)

The really unfortunate part of all this is, I think Bell took the difficult but right step in tossing the Patrick Baker-authored "screw up? whaaaa?" report on its ear and convening, with Council's support, the independent investigative panel. Suddenly, the City's insurer is threatening to drop its coverage if the City investigates itself.

Understandable from the insurer's perspective, since you don't exactly want your client exposing any dirty laundry that increases the chances you're going to have to pay out. But on the flip side, it's a big monkeywrench in the gears of getting to the bottom of what happened here.

Today's seemingly-likely scenario: lawsuit threats continue, City settles for a few mil, insurance picks up the cost -- and the commission disbands.

All of which leads to a sub-optimal outcome. In this case, the sub is short for "submarined."