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October 2007

American Tobacco residential/apartment website goes live

As work nears completion on the Old Bull and Noell buildings in Phase II of the American Tobacco Campus, it looks like it's time for Capitol Broadcasting to start leasing up the units. A new web site ( is now live and provides an overview of the complex's residential options.

Unfortunately, floorplans are not yet live; additionally, there's no mention of condo units, of which twelve were announced to be included along with 53 apartments in this phase. (This could be an element still to come on the web site or through a future marketing option.)

Some of the marketing-heavy text on the site is a bit heavy on the flowery prose; witness, for instance, the discussion of "Bull River views" from your apartment. The water feature at American Tobacco is great and all, but I don't know if I'd count river views as an amenity per se. Interestingly, most of the amenities listed for the units go hand in hand with the ATC itself, like access to the YMCA on the complex and a "Starbucks on your doorstep," though not after 4pm or on weekends yet, of course.

For my money and from ground-level peeking, the Noell units -- which are new construction atop the old factory complex building with roof decks and patios -- look to be the most intriguing option in the second phase, though there's something to be said for the character of the Old Bull building, the "oldest factory building in Durham."

Price ranges are not listed, though the site invites you to name your desired price range.

Mayor's race prediction: Bell, by a whisker

Today, a look at the mayor's race, and our prediction on what to look for in the election coming up two weeks from now. Don't miss your chance to win a $25 gift certificate in BCR's predict-the-mayor's-race contest; see below for details.

The mayoral race is far more intriguing than the Council election at this point in the contest. The Durham Committee's endorsement (which seemed, for a time, in doubt) will certainly help Bell, as will that of the People's Alliance; without both, his campaign would be in very difficult straits indeed. Also of interest is Sheriff Worth Hill's endorsement of Bell, a feather in the cap against the challenger's positioning as the only candidate who can stop crime in the Bull City.

But is this enough to win the election?

Conventional wisdom holds that s/he who wins the most PAC endorsement, wins. Yet a number of factors make this race different. As has been discussed at length here, however, this election has marked a departure from traditional Durham campaigning, with automated phone robo-calls, intensive direct mailings, and TV ads for the Thomas Stith effort blanketing the city. And Bill Bell hasn't really faced any challenges getting elected since he defeated Nick Tennyson six years ago to initially win the mayor's seat.

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Greenfire pressing on with downtown renewal; will the City, County follow?

I had a great opportunity (through my involvement in one of my non-blog community activities) to get a tour of some of Greenfire Development's downtown Durham properties on Thursday. A big thank you to the folks over at Greenfire for putting on this tour, most especially Evelyn Contre with Greenfire with being a great tour leader. Thanks, too, to the Kress residents who, upon encountering our tour group in the elevator, welcomed us literally into their home on the spot to see their finished condo unit.

Getting a look at some of the properties Greenfire is currently redeveloping -- including the Kress and Baldwin, which I've seen before, and the Hill and Rogers Alley buildings, which I hadn't -- it's clear that Greenfire is working on transforming these buildings into effective mixed-use that could add vibrancy and life to the downtown district. American Tobacco has that now, and West Village should come alive when its renovations finish over the next year.

The city center is an employment and services destination in the daylight, but has until recently been fairly quiet at night. Restaurants are starting to open, and residents behind them, following the trend seen in many urban area re-developments.

I'd earlier posted some photos that a BCR reader was kind enough to share of Durham's skyline from the top of the Hill Building (former CCB tower, now with SunTrust's name at the top, in case you're wondering.) Breathtaking as the photos are, there's nothing like seeing it for yourself. The conversion of Hill to a boutique hotel/spa with a few condos really is a perfect re-use for a building that is well past any effective use as an office tower.

And seeing the development at Rogers Alley, where Greenfire continues to demonstrate a keen interest in really keeping its development "green" (including a geothermal climate control system for the building that will see Greenfire reach down into the ground a distance of five Hill Buildings), and which will bring Dos Perros together with office space and other uses.

What's it going to take to bring together the redevelopment of downtown Durham's city center? If last week's Herald-Sun article on Greenfire's plans is any indication, the big debate in the coming years will be about "public-private partnerships" to support the renewal of the city center district. Which is, of course, the area where Greenfire has concentrated most of its properties.

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Bull City Silverline

Wanted to pass along a nice video short put together by a Durham resident (and reader of local blogs) that pays a great and fitting tribute to the downtown of our great city. Thanks to Luther Blissett for putting together this terrific and inspiring clip.

Zombie lurch takes over downtown Durham this Saturday

In what will likely go down as one of the more unusual public events to take place in downtown Durham's history, this Saturday at 5pm hordes of the undead will wander the center city, looking for tasty brains to snack on.

All in good fun, of course.

Yes, the international zombie lurch fad is about to hit the streets of the Bull City; other cities have seen crowds grow into the thousands for this event, but expect a more moderate crowd to show up this weekend.

What's the point? Who cares? You get to dress up in your pre-Halloween worst and get made up like a zombie, then cavort around the street making ghoulish sounds and scaring small children. Fun!

Make-up call is at 4:30 at the corner of Foster and Seminary across from the Piedmont restaurant. If you're already wearing your undead best, arrive at five. Organizers note that attendees should plan to come rain or shine, since even if it rains, "we'll brave it—it's not going to kill us. Since we're already dead and all." The total zombie meandering route is estimated at 1.5 miles.

Zombies are asked to stay on the sidewalks (since this is not a parade) and to not attack anyone who is not a "voluntary victim."


In honor of this special event, BCR presents our top-seven list of people we'd like to see show up for the zombie march. (Why seven? Hey, Durham's a small city.)

7. City Manager Patrick Baker: Not dressed up as a zombie, mind you, but just to keep calm and order on the streets, and remind citizens there is nothing to fear. Let's call it practice for the alien invasion.

6. Howard Clement: Howard would make one bad-ass zombie. I'm just sayin'.

5. Bill Kalkhof: Because, really, shouldn't the guy who's making downtown "undead" show up as an undead guy himself?

4. Jim Goodmon: We've seen him dance. Now, let's see him shuffle!

3. Bob Ashley of the Herald-Sun: Hey, running a local newspaper is ghoulish these days. Come and be inspired.

2. Mike Krzyzewski: Simply because there is absolutely no chance that the most media-savvy coach in college sports would ever do it.

And the number one spot goes to...

1. Mike Nifong: Because it's an ideal chance to field-test a new approach to anonymity. Bonus points if his presence draws extra media hype.

West Village bridge over Main St. comes down

Well, it's official -- the West Village bridge over W. Main St. that we discussed here on Monday has, in fact, now come down.

As it happens, the bridge appears to have been removed Monday morning; I noticed the change to the skyline heading back from lunch at Brightleaf and grabbed this photo of the change. If you look behind the speed limit sign, you can make out some of the steel superstructure of the bridge sitting on the sidewalk.


N. Durham: Harris Teeter, Walgreens progressing slowly at Willowdaile

Some questions vex the unlucky among us for the ages. Will Sisyphus ever get that darned stone up the hill without it falling down? Will NBC ever allow the "E.R." franchise to get the euthanasia it has so desperately needed for so long?

And on point for this blog: When the !&#$!@ will construction ever begin on the Harris Teeter up at Willowdaile, where a cinema sacrificed itself on the bulldozer altar for a store that's yet to open?

Rest a while longer, o suburban ones. You'll soon be sucking at the new Teet[er] -- as opposed to its Big Star-era ancestor across the street, which just plain sucks. The issue holding things up is a rather mundane and hum-drum problem. Namely, utility easements between the new store and neighboring businesses on the lot.

Word from the manager of one of these businesses is that the easements discussions are rolling along at this point (we'd heard a previous report that they were stuck in the mud.) New to report is that the now-closed Kangaroo/Pantry gas station between the Coffee World and Napa is set to transform itself into a Walgreens in the near future. Which should be a great comfort to those North Durhamites who've had to suffer the indignity of only having an Eckerd's Rite Aid, oh, right across the street.

Anyhow, report is that the construction should begin soon on the new Teet, though how soon is still apparently a matter of some speculation. The Durham News is reporting a fall 2008/winter 2009 opening, which meshes with a near-term construction start.

Trinity Park trick-or-treating meets the Web

With Halloween coming it, it's no surprise that folks are getting ready for the onslaught of trick-or-treaters preparing to come down the streets next week.

Halloween But how ready do you need to be? In my neck of my 'hood, on N. Duke St., the little ones and their parents don't seem to wander around. No surprise: the best costume for Duke/Gregson trick-or-treaters would be an orange traffic cone, and with the speeds on the street, there's too great a risk of turning into an accidental speed bump.

Other blocks in places like Trinity Park, Watts-Hillandale, and other neighborhoods, though, see much greater turnout... hundreds of kids, in some cases, with W-H bringing out police officers to help shepherd the 700+ kids along W. Club Blvd.

So how do you know if you're going to need to be buying treats or not? A local resident, Ryan Williams has the answer: a web site where he's collecting street addresses and amount of candy distributed this year. Once the data is collected, it'll be possible to visualize or at least publish the high and low points of candy demand.

The whole idea demonstrates what's great about neighborhood listservs in the Internet era. John Hodges-Copple (a TP resident and regional planner for the Triangle J Council of Governments) suggested in a moment of seeming whimsy the need for some kind of Google map showing candy demand in an email sent at 7:41 pm last week. Less than three hours later, Williams responds to the list with the web site for collecting the candy counts.

No word whether Williams is willing to collect the candy data for all of Durham or just Trinity Park, but if you're in the neighborhood at least, stop by and leave your candy numbers this year.

Durham and crime: Hyman hits the heart of the matter

We've talked here before about Durham's crime and image issues, in excruciating detail in fact. Pulling together the data I quoted in the post on crime levels in Greensboro versus Durham reminded me of Frank Hyman's strong, succinct summary of Durham's crime problems in his column appearing in this week's The Durham News:

Stith contrasts Durham's crime rate with the lower rates of our whiter and wealthier neighbors (the black populations of Cary, Chapel Hill and Raleigh are 3 percent, 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively).

Incumbent mayor Bill Bell compares Durham's crime rate with cities more similar in race and income demographics -- Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Both have a population that is 37 percent black and crime rates higher than ours. The City of Durham has been roughly 50-50 white and black for more than a century.

Which comparison matters most? In the 23 years I have lived in Durham, Republicans have complained on an almost daily basis that because our crime rate is worse than our neighbors' (and our tax rate and our schools, roads, etc.), "no one will want to move here." But somehow 100,000 people -- of all races and ethnicities -- ignored their real-estate agents' dire warnings and moved to Durham anyway....

When there's a rough correlation between crime rates and proportion of poor and black people in American cities, what we are seeing is a map of the aftershocks of prejudice based on race and income. Only a small percentage of the people subjected to prejudice are going to react by adopting a violent or drug-ridden lifestyle, but it doesn't take many before you've got 20 or 30 people a year being murdered or nearly 100 women being raped or about a thousand drug addicts creating a market that sustains various criminal retail enterprises.

Though Hyman is raising the point in reference to mayoral candidate Thomas Stith's attempts to raise the issue as part of his campaign for mayor, the point is relevant even outside the frame of this campaign. We can't look to economically exclusionary islands like Cary as a model for what Durham 'should' look like. Nor can we expect crime to disappear simply by declaring that we're going to get "tough" on it.

When I look at crime levels in Durham versus Greensboro and see that violent crime has not only been dropping for five years in the Bull City while stagnant in Greensboro, but on a per-capita basis is 13% lower in Durham today, it strikes me that we're doing something right.

Ultimately, though, the problems of crime will be solved, as Hyman points out, by investing in and improving Durham neighborhoods and youth -- a goal that runs hand-in-hand with improving policing and law enforcement operations.

Greensboro, or what Durham could and should be

Greensborostreet Last week and this weekend I got to spend some quality time in Greensboro, our neighbor to the west down I-40/I-85. I haven't spent much time in North Carolina's third-largest city, despite having lived a year in Charlotte and several years in Durham.

Greensboro isn't much bigger than the Bull City -- 187,000 vs. 224,000 as of the 2000 Census, though Durham's faster growth portends it will eventually catch up. And there are other similarities; Greensboro is racially and socioeconomically diverse, like Durham, with each the home to one of N.C.'s historically black colleges. Each has sections of great wealth and poverty, with crime rates that reflect their urban nature. (Though worth noting that Durham's crime rates are down 16% in property and 26% in violent crimes since 2001, while G'boro's is unchanged over the same period.)

Likewise, Durham and Greensboro are both in the midst of urban renaissance, renewing their downtowns with a mix of public and private investment.

As much progress as the Bull City has made -- and we have every right to be proud of it -- a weekend in Greensboro spent between downtown and N.C. A&T led me to walk away asking, how is our neighbor to the west so far ahead of Durham in revitalizing the urban core?

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