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December 2007

More on the Loehmann's Plaza Harris Teeter plan -- and a new Whole Foods to boot?

We've learned a bit more about the proposal for a Harris Teeter in the Loehmann's Plaza at Hillandale Rd. and Front St., just north of I-85, courtesy of a retailer in the complex. According to our source, the Harris Teeter is in fact a done deal contingent only upon NCDOT's willingness to add a stop light for the complex during the planned widening of Hillandale Rd. -- an element that appears to be a shoo-in at this point in time.

Assuming that happens and the store moves forward, what's currently planned is nothing short of a major redevelopment of the shopping center, which the N&O reported last year would be renamed Croasdaile Commons. The central part of the strip mall -- in the area where Vickers Clothiers used to be, and a nail shop and dry cleaner sit now, etc. -- would be torn down and replaced by a 50,000 sq. ft. (full-size) Harris Teeter.

On the front of the property, closest to Hillandale Rd., would sit at least two retail outparcel buildings, each two stories, to house the kind of supporting retail pads that currently are located in the strip center. (Think of the design of Sutton Station in south Durham as an example.)  Parking would fill in between the areas.

Continue reading "More on the Loehmann's Plaza Harris Teeter plan -- and a new Whole Foods to boot?" »

Old K-Mart plaza to see new retail life?

For a few years now, the old K-Mart site on Avondale Dr. just off I-85 has sat vacant, with no activity save the occasional illegal dumping into the wildlife area to the property's rear, and the concomitant biannual visits by local Scouts troops to clean up their fellow man's junk and help the resident beavers out a bit.

The vacant shopping center has been an eyesore and sore point for neighbors in the Duke Park, Colonial Village, Northgate Park, and Braggtown communities, which have wanted to see the old shopping center put to more productive use.

The late 2006 opening of a Compare Foods supermarket in the old Winn-Dixie portion of the shopping center just to the west of K-Mart's pad was a good first step towards renewing the sleepy center. Now comes word from retail and office researcher CoStar that Harbor Freight Tools, the popular retailer of "top-quality tools," has leased 15,000 sq. ft. in the vacant K-Mart building, which is currently undergoing up-fit and renovation in preparation for the store's arrival.

Also of interest: CoStar reports that another 30,000 sq. ft. in the old K-Mart has a pending lease; together, this means that half of the old discount store's space is now spoken for. No word on what other tenant is coming to the building.

From the "Stuff I Never Knew" department: Apparently, the landlord for the K-Mart building is none other than the NCDOT. Anyone know more about that?

TBJ: West Village races to meet Dec. 31 tax credit deadline

Driving back into Durham on Thursday from a week in Orlando and Charleston, S.C., I decided to drive by the West Village Phase II project along Morgan & Main downtown to see a daylight view of the project, though I didn't expect much in the way of new developments over the Christmas holiday.

Needless to say, I was quite a bit surprised therefore to see a large construction crew out and about, far enough along to be testing fire alarm systems and installing exterior lighting. "Huh," I said to my wife, "I didn't realize they were this far along with the project," given the noticeable changes even in our week away from the Bull City.

Leave it to Friday's Triangle Business Journal to give the low-down in a well-reported article by Amanda Jones Hoyle. Turns out that Blue Devil Partners sold off the value of the historic tax credits  generated by the restoration of the old Liggett factory to Wachovia in exchange for cash that could be used today towards construction costs on the massive redevelopment project. According to the TBJ, if the project misses its Dec. 31 deadline, the developers will face some penalties in their agreement with Wachovia.

Continue reading "TBJ: West Village races to meet Dec. 31 tax credit deadline" »

2007 in review: Government & politics top stories (#1-#5)

Wrapping up our two-day series on the top stories in local government and politics, let's take a look at the top five stories from this year from the public sector:

#5: Ali joins re-elected Brown, Catotti on Council. After the primary election results -- in which Diane Catotti and Eugene Brown walked away all but shoo-ins for the November general election -- the only real question was, which newcomer would take the third open seat on City Council (one vacated by Thomas Stith in his run for mayor.) Laney Funderburk and Steve Monks, running as a GOP-themed team, failed to improve upon their primary showings, leaving the race between political newcomer Farad Ali and longtime community and Democratic Party activist/volunteer David Harris. While Harris carried support from progressive PACs and organizations in Durham, Ali secured the endorsement of the Durham Committee to win big in East Durham and carry the election. (Harris and Ali ran fairly even in North and South Durham, with Harris taking a moderate lead in west-central Durham near Duke's campus.) In the first few Council meetings since the election, Catotti and Brown have continued to join incumbent Mike Woodard as part of a 'progressive bloc' on Council, while Ali has shown an independence on a number of issues that could make him a key swing voter over the next two years.

#4: Baker resigns as City Manager. Although he earned credit from local wags and city-watchers for dramatically improving morale in City Hall during his short tenure as Durham's city manager, Patrick Baker's lack of management experience was a common theme in criticisms of perceived errors the city government made in the past year, including the lead-in-water scare and the Great Yard Waste Fire -- not to mention the announcement of structural issues with the East Chapel Hill Street parking garage, revealed shortly after the November election. Not long thereafter, the Council approached Baker, formerly an assistant city attorney, about his interest in taking the top attorney post upon Henry Blinder's resignation in 2008. Baker agreed, and will slot back into the Council-appointed attorney role after this budget year. In 2008, expect the search for a new city manager to gain enough attention as to make this year's police chief search pale by comparison -- and all eyes will be on the Council to see whether finding a manager with significant municipal management experience rises to the top of the wishlist this time around.

Continue reading "2007 in review: Government & politics top stories (#1-#5)" »

2007 in review: Government & politics top stories (#6-#10)

Back to our year-in-review series (after finally making it back to Durham after a rather extended out-of-state trip). Today, a look at the 'bottom five' of our ten top stories in government and politics that happened in '07; tomorrow, a look at the top five.

In some ways, tomorrow's list -- which, naturally, includes the current water woes and election results, plus everyone's favorite sticks-to-suits story -- is more predictable than today's. Setting the top-of-the-headlines aside, these sixth through tenth place stories may be inside-the-paper stories from a year's-end perspective, but some of these could have a major impact on the Bull City in the years to come.

#10: NCDOT wraps I-85, casts an eye to the East End Connector.
Mercifully, the years of suffering on I-85 has come to a long-awaited end with the completion of the freeway's widening, which as much as doubled the road's width in areas and which smartly shunts Richmond/Atlanta through traffic to the leftmost lanes, minimizing the impact of (and on) local traffic. In the long run, however, the NCDOT's steps this year to bring the East End Connector closer to reality marks the transportation story to watch in the new year. With Alignment #3 selected and a shrinking number of homes and businesses impacted, the state's creeping closer towards starting the road -- that is, as soon as elected officials find some solution to the ever-worsening problem of financing roads in N.C., which added 1 million new residents since 2000. Should a Hail-Mary road financing save from Gov. Easley not take place, look for the EEC in the 2014 timeframe... but watch for final design and environmental statements in the next 12-18 months.

#9: Frank Duke leaves City/County Planning for Norfolk.
Duke's departure for the Tidewater region of Virginia this fall leaves him with a mixed legacy: the mastermind behind Durham's UDO development ordinance, but an official stepping out of a key role just as squabbles and intepretation questions began to rise in volume and temperature around Durham. The oft-Byzantine processes and procedures in the local governmental development and planning process have proven adept at frustrating developers and residents alike (leading to such snafus as the Morreene Road/Turnage Heights debacle this year). Look for Duke's replacement to be tasked by his county and city managers with shoring up the staffing within Planning -- and to start illuminating some key precedents and interpretations for the UDO.

Continue reading "2007 in review: Government & politics top stories (#6-#10)" »

2007 in review: Downtown's top stories (#1-#5)

We'll continue yesterday's series on downtown's top stories today with a look at our top five news items from the year that was in the Bull City. Tomorrow, we'll start a two-day series on the top governmental and politics stories before closing out the week with a look at restaurant and shopping news in Durham this year.

#5: Durham Performing Arts Center, Diamond View II start construction. The revitalization of the American Tobacco district (which continued on the first phase's north end in a project to complete in 2008) moved eastward in a big way this year with the groundbreaking for the DPAC and for Capitol Broadcasting's Diamond View II office building. The DPAC in particular, if successful, has the potential to be a major catalyst for downtown retail, dining and hospitality businesses to serve theatergoers and tourists when it opens in fall 2008. DVII, scheduled to open this spring, will add three-quarters as much leaseable space to downtown's commercial office market as the entire Durham Centre tower holds today. The question mark for 2008 remains how long it will take Capitol and their development partner Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse to move forward with the 400 planned condo units for the third phase of the ATC, intended as in-fill around the DPAC and DVII, or to move forward with the third Diamond View building.

#4: Revitalization spreads east, south with Golden Belt, Heritage Square, Rolling Hills, Eastway Village. Looking back on 2007, one of the biggest stories remains the expansion of downtown revitalization outside the urban core into neighborhoods to Durham's east and south -- in what could mark, ten years from now, the beginning of re-investment into a part of Durham's community that's suffered both perceived and real issues with poverty and crime. The redevelopment of Rolling Hills, approved by the City Council as the year drew to a close, brings in deep-pocketed, experienced national developers to transform part of the Hayti urban renewal area into a mixed-income, denser residential development. Across the street, Scientific Properties closed this year on their purchase of Heritage Square, a struggling shopping center set for transformation into a mixed-use retail and commercial area with as much square footage as Northgate Mall -- and likely to be a major draw for NCCU students and staff and the surrounding communities.

Further north, Scientific's Golden Belt live-work residential and studio project will create a home for the arts in a Durham that already is finding its creative and grittier ventures at risk of being priced-out of the market. To its east, Durham's taxpayer-funded redevelopment of the Barnes Ave. area into Eastway Village -- and the Hope VI work now underway on the site of the old Few Gardens across the street -- presents still another chance at improving urban in-fill neighborhoods. On the watch list for 2008: How well, and how quickly, will Scientific Properties succeed in its task to bring a retail development partner into the picture for Heritage Square? And, will the national housing crisis come home to roost over these renewal efforts?

Continue reading "2007 in review: Downtown's top stories (#1-#5)" »

2007 in review: Downtown's top stories (#6-#10)

The year that's ending has been full of major news and happenings in and around downtown Durham, which continues to draw private investment and interest at levels unimaginable a decade ago, or even five years back. Today we'll look at some of the top downtown news items from this year -- specifically, those we're ranking as the sixth to tenth most significant downtown development and renewal happenings of the year. Coming tomorrow: the top five.

#10: Craig Davis Properties buys, improves the Durham Centre. The Durham Centre is a fixture on the local skyline, but has suffered in recent years from a rapidly eroding parking deck, ongoing questions about the air rights and future development on the western pad, and a worrisomely-high vacancy rate. The tower's purchase by Triangle-based Craig Davis Properties was a sign of new interest and renewal for the high-rise, one bolstered by announcements that CDP would invest over $1 million in tower refurbishment and would partner with the City to accelerate and improve the bond-funded deck renovations. Recent rumors that the tower may shortly lease up fully also make this deal seem to bode well for Davis.

#9: Bus and train improvements on the way. Transit news has been a bit anticlimactic in the Bull City and the region since the failure of TTA's Raleigh-to-Durham rail line to get Federal dollars through the New Starts program in the wake of Bush administration belt-tightening and new qualification criteria. Still, the end of 2007 brought some smaller-scale good news for transit in Durham. First, city officials held the groundbreaking for the Durham Station multi-modal (local and regional bus and taxi) station, located just west of the north parking deck at American Tobacco. The new station will be a marked improvement over the old huts at the Downtown Loop -- then again, what wouldn't be? Additionally, the on-again-off-again deal with NCDOT to move Durham's Amtrak station from its pathetic little trailer on the south side of the tracks into an 11,000 sq. ft. station in West Village's Walker building is again on track (no pun intended), which will provide a far more attractive and inviting option for travelers beginning or ending their travels in the Bull City.

Continue reading "2007 in review: Downtown's top stories (#6-#10)" »

State approves historical marker for Royal Ice Cream sit-in

A belated congratulations to R. Bryant Kelly, Virginia Williams, Eddie Davis, John Schelp, and everyone else involved in getting approval for a state historical marker to note the Royal Ice Cream sit-in in Durham, an event from fifty years ago that helped galvanize North Carolina's civil rights movement.

The marker, initially rejected by the state historical marker committee several years back, came to fruition thanks to an appeal by these Durhamites -- an appeal that, quite rightly, earned the attention and support of the local print and television media, local governmental bodies, and neighborhood and citizens groups.

Which, in and of itself, serves as a marker all to itself. A visible, very public market of the fact that Durham is a city that doesn't turn its back on its history and its past -- including those elements that in other communities and venues, folks want to sweep under the rug with banalities like "can't we get over the past?" One of the things I love about Durham is its celebration of itself, past and present, warts and all, as we've seen this year with events like the 50th-anniversary of Royal Ice Cream and the release of "Durham: A Self-Portrait."

Royal Ice Cream is an important symbol and recollection of a dark time in the history not just of Durham, but the American South. Honoring the event in this way reminds us of how far we've come as a community and a nation, but also how far we have yet to go in order to truly create a society with equal opportunities for all.

Because when you look at our schools, our neighborhoods, our civic institutions, it's clear that we're not there yet. It's not a situation that's unique or singular to Durham -- but what does stand out is Durham's willingness to talk about and recognize the importance of these topics, and to do something about them.

Youth Noise Network covers Durham development, wants your input

A thanks to the good folks at the Youth Noise Network program at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies for giving me the opportunity to talk to their group last night about development in Durham. YNN brings together Durham teenagers to produce audio documentaries about topics that impact the Bull City from the unique perspective of the city's youth. We talked about the history of development in Durham, the roles of private- and public-sector players, and emerging trends in mixed-use development, redevelopment in the urban core, and affordable housing.

Talking here at BCR about, say, topics like the Garrett Farm apartments or the W. Main St. "Quality Products, Quality People" factory bridge is one thing -- hearing the perspectives of local teens who live near or are impacted by the built environment and changes therein is quite a different thing.

YNN will be meeting with a number of stakeholders in Durham's development community over the next couple of months (including a January tour with Greenfire of the developer's downtown properties), and they're looking for the help of others in the community who can share their thoughts and perspectives on development. If you've got thoughts to share and would like to meet a great group of Durham youth, send an email to YNN coordinator Tennessee Watson.

Durham YMCA board approves recommendations on Lakewood, downtown, and South Durham Y's

Chuck Clifton of the Committee to Save the Lakewood Y has reported that the Durham YMCA Board of Advisors has voted their support for the Y's task force that examined the future of the at-risk Lakewood Y facility as well as needs in downtown and South Durham.

The Y's recommendations are posted on this YMCA of the Triangle web site. Be sure to read past the press release and open the two PDFs at the bottom of the page to get the details of what's planned (which are alluded to, but not completely laid out, in the chipper and upbeat press release, curiously titled "Future Looks Brighter for Lakewood YMCA!" No, I didn't add the exclamation point.)

Overall, the recommendations seem largely unchanged from those presented at last month's community meeting. The task force recommendation for Lakewood focuses on finding financial support for the Lakewood facility from a third party while maintaining "core services" in the existing facility:

[T]he Durham YMCAs Board of Advisors recommends identifying a partner to purchase all or lease a portion of the Lakewood facility on a long term basis that meets the needs of the YMCA as well as the needs of the surrounding community, and in the instance of a sale, entering into a long term lease for the portion of the facility needed to operate a successful YMCA, as substantiated by the commissioned studies.... The YMCA leased space may include space for youth programs, wellness activities, locker rooms, and the fields.  The YMCA should be able to renovate the Lakewood Locker Rooms, Wellness Space, Youth Program Space and Sports Fields, through the sale or through operational savings. 

The task force also has proposed a number of other priorities, including:

  • Adding youth/family locker rooms, additional group fitness space, and improved nursery space to the Downtown Y -- but with the caveat that the building's envelope/footprint should not be expanded unless additional parking can be found.
  • Working with the City and adjacent landowners "to close Seminary Street in order to increase parking for the Downtown YMCA," a suggestion that raised a bit of controversy in our earlier discussion here.
  • Establishment of a South Durham YMCA program center (presumably also in leased space) by January 2010 in order to serve unmet needs and to "position the YMCA for significant expansion in that area."
  • Aggressively pursuing "community support" for these initiatives -- read, fundraising -- in order to meet desired expansion goals as well as to balance the Durham Y's budged in fiscal year 2009. To help meet this balanced-budget and expansion goal, the task force is also asking the YMCA of the Triangle leadership to change its bookkeeping approach to forgive the "association reserves" for rental spaces like the American Tobacco Y and, soon, Lakewood's facility.

Continue reading "Durham YMCA board approves recommendations on Lakewood, downtown, and South Durham Y's" »