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

#3: Greenfire begins to reveal its city center plans. Greenfire's plans for downtown have started to become clearer this year, even as the developer continued its property acquisitions downtown. Greenfire's announcement earlier this year of its partnership with Lifestyle Hospitality to transform the Hill Building downtown into a boutique hotel was major news in the community, and marks a project that should mesh well with the DPAC's arrival downtown. The reports that emerged later this year of Greenfire's interest in buying an aging city-owned parking deck and surface parking lots in Durham and redeveloping those into parking structures with wrapper buildings also drew a significant amount of interest from downtown watchers -- and is likely to fuel a significant debate in the new year as to what public-sector incentives or participation the developer might want before moving forward. In the meantime, Greenfire's acquisition of the SouthBank building downtown this year makes them an even greater stakeholder in the transformation of the Downtown Loop roadway. Their plans and the desired level of public investment remain one of the major stories to watch for 2008.

#2: West Village Phase II breaks ground. After several years of planning, Blue Devil Partners (now lacking one-time member Tom Niemann) stepped forward to begin their $150 million renovation of the southern end of the old Liggett & Myers facility between Brightleaf and the city center districts downtown. When the project comes online in 2008, BDP will have the opportunity to have a singular and dramatic impact on downtown life, turning a once-lifeless set of factories into residential, retail and commercial space linking the successful Brightleaf area from the still-re-imagining downtown core. The addition, as noted in yesterday's story, of as many as 600 new residential units to downtown brings with it a real impact and driver for retail and dining options throughout the urban core, helping to further cement downtown's renewal. As a result, much of Durham's success in redevelopment in the new year will hang on BDP's success in leasing up their spaces and actually creating the ground-level energy the project needs to impact the Bull City.

#1: Durham celebrates the downtown streetscape's completion.
The long-awaited end to the sidewalk and street reconstruction and aesthetic improvement project downtown brought relief to downtown merchants that struggled during the project, while also creating a far more attractive and accessible downtown environment in the midst of a surge of private-sector interest. The City's completion of the downtown streets project is an important sign of the commitment of Durham's elected officials to the city center, while also providing a significantly improved infrastructure to draw businesses and stores downtown. Durham celebrated the over-budget, over-schedule success with Durham Rising, one of the biggest street parties the Bull City has seen in years, focused around the new (and anachronistically-named) CCB Plaza and the new statuary mascot, Major the Bull.

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