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November 2007
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December 2007

Broad St. & W. Knox to close today

A heads-up from the N&O: The intersection of Broad St. and W. Knox St. will be closed today so the city can fix a water leak that's "bubbling through a crack in the sidewalk."

Given the deteriorating conditions of the drought, the City's jumping all over identified water leaks... though perhaps not before the local media gets involved. Worth noting that, as WRAL put it in a story that ran yesterday on the station:

Water has steadily bubbled into Broad Street outside Dr. Deb Conner's endodontics office in downtown Durham for weeks from an underground pipe. A stream of water flows down the gutter into a nearby storm drain.

"Over 24 hours a day for four to six weeks is significant," Conner said. "Someone did come and looked at the problem and recognized, yes, it is leaking. They tried to find the source but were unable to."

Naturally, Broad Street gets dug up the next day. Vicki Westbrook from the City's water management department is on record as noting that Durham loses 2.6 million gallons of water from the system each day, due to a mix of leaks and other causes (sewer line flushing, fire-fighting, etc.)

Look for Broad & Knox to re-open on Thursday.

Broad Street Cafe: seeking partnership or sale

Jonathan Tagg -- whose revitalization of the Broad Street Cafe has transformed the neighborhood coffeeshop into a destination for daytime and evening gatherings and musical performances -- has announced that he's looking to sell the business in part or full.

Tagg's offer to sell a full interest or a partial one (and to remain as a partner in the business in the latter case) comes on the heels of the real turnaround he's brought to the business, which had been Ooh La Latte before becoming Broad Street Cafe. Between BSC's success and the popularity of neighboring eatery Watts Grocery (two doors down in the same building at the corner of Broad and W. Club), it's difficult to get a parking space there some nights.

Which, of course, is a terrific thing for Durham and for the surrounding neighborhoods, the latter of which have taken to the BSC as a living room of sorts. Stop by most days and you'll see study or community groups meeting, or kids playing together and with their parents in the children's area. At night, Tagg has brought in musical entertainment -- a rarity for Durham, which has a curious shortage of places for live music and merriment.

According to the owner, average daily sales have risen from $90 to $900, a real validation of the concept and execution. Tagg notes in his email announcement that the business "has grown beyond [his] capabilities" and, in an interview with the Herald-Sun, notes his interest in focusing on the aspects of the business that he can "enjoy [and be] good at."

As Michael Bacon notes over at his blog:

Jonathan took a business that was limping along and turned it into a real community resource, and fueled its success in the best possible way -- by working very hard to create a community feel and by adding things like a kid's area and hosting more local music.  It didn't come without a cost, though.  Jonathan and a couple of previous employees put in ridiculous amounts of work to make that happen, so it doesn't surprise me that he's tapping out.

More details and contact info for Tagg are available in the H-S article or at Michael's The Bull in Full blog.

WRAL: "Don't tase me, bro!"

You know, this could just become a twice-monthly series: "How poorly can WRAL cover the Durham City Council?"

Let's see here -- besides covering Durham's drought and alternative water sources (which they and every other media shop in town can cover just fine), what else from last night's four-plus hour meeting did they find fit to cover?

The investment of $3 million+ to buy out homeowners in the failed Rolling Hills development project, and the decision to negotiate and execute a development agreement with two major national developers in a move that could bring over a thousand new housing units to central Durham? Nope; as of 8:15 am today, not a peep.

Further debates on water and sewer extensions into greenfield development, a move that could lead to more housing units being constructed in a drought, with developers now at risk that they might not get a water connection to their units when done? Zip from the 'RALians.

What about the City taking baby steps forward to transfer control of a site in Brier Creek that WakeMed wants for a hospital to serve the fast-growing community there? Nada. (In fact, they haven't covered WakeMed's Garner/Brier Creek expansion at all, from what I can tell; the N&O did.)

The renovation of the Durham Centre parking deck, now in Craig Davis Properties' hands? Uh-uh.

No, WRAL picked out... a consent agenda item:


Yes, "Durham Cops to Get More Tasers" is the first story the WRALians have published out of Monday's City Council meeting.

This kind of bizarre coverage seems best explained as fitting into one of two categories:

  • WRAL lacks the competence or interest to actually cover City Council meetings.
  • WRAL just loves any story with a "crime in Durham!" angle. Especially one that shows a Derm police officer (the inimitable Sgt. Gunter) getting tased in a demonstration this summer.

Come to think of it, is this necessarily an either/or?

City Council: Bond decision postponed, Rolling Hills rolls forward

Well, we're still in suspense on the two-thirds bond discussion. Patrick Baker mentioned in his priority comments that the administration had some additional work to do on the bonds issue, and asked to have the vote on the subject delayed until Thursday's Council work session.


Rolling Hills: Well, you gotta admire Larry Hester's guts, I guess. Hester -- the developer behind the failed second go-round of the Rolling Hills re-development (the City foreclosed on Larry & Denise Hester's development effort), and owners of shopping center developments that have received some loans from the municipality -- stood before the Council to complain about Eugene Brown's mention of him and his wife as likely to 'cause trouble' for the project at the recent City Council work session where the development was discussed.

Hester, unsurprisingly, railed against the "urban renewal on a larger scale than the past" for the project. He complained that he is "the most affected landowner, being directly adjacent on one side, and across the street on another." Then -- again, no surprises -- Hester complained about "millions to out-of-town developers" while Fayetteville St. would not get the $25-50 million that the Hesters have requested for a streetscape design to improve the road (a road where, naturally, the Hesters own a shopping center.)

Frankly, I found Larry Hester's complaint to be one of the more self-interested piles of hooey you can imagine. So did Eugene Brown, apparently:

It's really time for facts to be presented to a candid audience. I have read the attorney -- the attorney from Raleigh -- concerning this entire project, and Mr. Manager, I don't think all of our Council members are cognizant of this 60-page report. I'm referring to the report that the City was compelled to produce after the failure of Rolling Hills. The failure that was led by Larry and his wife, Denise Hester.

There was a report issued, paid for by the City, an objective analysis -- and all I have to say is, it's all there in black and white. Finally, Mr. Hester, I guess the word I would use would be "chutzpah" -- and for you to come up here and tell us as a council and me as an individual that you are offended by a remark I made in the paper. So let me tell you what I'm offended about: I'm offended about the fact that, due to your failure, the City may be forced to pay up to $6 million to correct all of your mistakes.

Continue reading "City Council: Bond decision postponed, Rolling Hills rolls forward" »

Proving you can never take the "pork" out of politics..., Monday, December 17 is officially "Ham Day" in the Bull City, as part of Honey Baked Ham's 50th anniversary celebration, it seems. So says Bill Bell, mayor of Durham, reading the proclamation at tonight's City Council meeting -- and, amazingly, managing to keep a straight face through most of the reading, which included "choice cuts" like this one...

"And whereas Mr. [Honey Baked Ham founder Harry J.] Hoenselaar used the finest quality bone-in hams, cured in his secret marinade then smoked for hours over a unique blend of hardwood chips, delivering a delicious ham with unique sweet honey glaze every time."

Did you know that Honey Baked Ham has broadened their menu to include premium meats, sides, and and other premium foods? I didn't -- but now I do!

Mind you, Honey Baked Ham isn't based in Durham, though it happens to have a store in Durham with 77 associates and 400 "seasonal associates" around the holiday.

And, no, I'm not kidding -- today really is "Ham Day," according to the proclamation.

Folks, you just can't make up politics in this here town of ours.

"Durham Magazine" to debut in April -- but which Durham?

Carymag Browsing through a Barnes & Noble the other week, I ran across the publication Cary Magazine, whose cover is shown at left. You'll note under the periodical's title a number of other towns printed in small latters -- Apex, Morrisville, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina. Which is to say, the magazine covers the suburban western Wake lifestyle not just in the Towne of Scary, but in the small towns popping up next to it about whom real estate agents note breathlessly will become "the next Cary." (Drive around the US 1 interchange in Holly Springs for a, shall we say, contrasting view -- I wouldn't look for a photo feature of it in the next Cary Magazine.)

Lifestyle magazines like this, which tend to feature some editorial content packed cheek-to-jowl with glossy color photo ads for stainless steel appliances, modern 7,000 sq. ft. interpretations of Old South plantation homes, and country clubs. Witness here in the western side of the Triangle the arrival of Fifteen 501 magazine, which highlights the "family-friendly towns and verdant greenways ... thriving job market and energizing nightlife" of Orange, Chatham and Durham Counties. (One presumes that the Premiere Motorsports complex is not among their coverage topics, or Rougemont's teeming nightlife, for that matter.)

These highly segmented publications serve a few purposes, notably to drive ad revenue and to be stuffed by Realtors into relocation packets for wary in-migrators wondering if they'll have any Wegman's or Starbucks in their homes after their corporate headquarters moves down to RTP. (Or, in the case of one such Wake/Johnston pub I browsed recently, a breathless bio of state senator, homebuilder and gubernatorial candidate Fred Smith written in terms so glowing I looked for the "Paid Advertisement" label -- or an announcement he was throwing his hat into the presidential race.)

Now comes word that Durham is about to get its own such lifestyle publication, "Durham Magazine," to debut in April. From the press release--

Durhammag_logo Durham Magazine, a locally owned, high-quality, glossy lifestyle magazine created to serve the City and County of Durham, will launch in April 2008 and be mailed to 20,000 targeted households.
“We are working on the first issue right now,” said Dan Shannon, publisher and editorial director of the new bimonthly magazine. “We’re planning articles on such areas as Durham’s world-class dining and entertainment scene, the downtown condo and office market, the art scene in Durham, the ins-and-outs of the Hope Valley real estate market, and much more. We look forward to serving our readers and advertisers with a compelling, beautifully designed, local publication.”

Continue reading ""Durham Magazine" to debut in April -- but which Durham?" »

Two-thirds bonds proposal: ATT funding, Durham Armory, some ADA

The agenda items for tonight's City Council are now posted, including the two-thirds bond fund proposed uses. Note that this item is on the general business agenda and is thus subject to debate and discussion -- I'd expect a bit of both tonight.

The bond proposal includes $1,500,000 towards the ATT I-40 bridge and Phase E trail; $2.5 million towards Federal/state matching funds for roads plus Durham road projects; $2.1 million for the Durham Armory renovations; $215,000 for Old Lyon Park; $1.7 million for a new yard waste facility and repairs to the solid waste transfer station and administration facilities; $3.5 million for City Hall renovations; and $650,000 towards ADA accommodation and projects. 

City Council: Two-thirds bonds, Rolling Hills, and ho-ho-whole lot of development

Tonight's docket is a long one for City Council -- so long, it looks like city staffers haven't yet been able to post up the supporting documents showing details for each agenda item. Which is a shame, because the subjects on tonight's docket include some major topics for local leaders:

  • The two-thirds bonds vote; will the City go for American Tobacco Trail funding, ADA dollars, or new water supplies? See earlier BCR coverage (article one, article two) for more details.
  • Redevelopment at Rolling Hills: The Council will take up this third try at redeveloping part of old Hayti, after the first two projects created the current failed Rolling Hills site. Look for the potential for some interesting debate among the Council and with the citizenry on this one. (Jim Wise at The Durham News did a terrific three-part series in the paper this week on the history of Hayti and Rolling Hills; check out parts one, two or three for more background.)
  • Jordan at Southpoint's water/sewer extension agreement is back on the agenda tonight, a couple of weeks after a length debate at Council led to some talk of a development moratorium in the Bull City.
  • The Teague-Hankins deal -- which has gotten little attention from anyone, except the Durham County Commission and its Durham Regional Hospital steering board, which are none too happy about it. The vote on tonight's general business agenda will be to authorize this ETJ and utilities deal with Raleigh, setting the stage for more development in eastern Durham, a potential new WakeMed hospital facility in Brier Creek -- and a ticked-off Ellen Reckhow. For more on this Durham City/Durham County/Raleigh interplay, check out this past BCR article.
  • Public hearings on the zoning changes for Treyburn Village and the Northeast Creek development (the latter of which is just off Ellis Rd. near Bethesda and RTP.)
  • On the consent agenda, there's an intriguing "public-private partnership development agreement" between the City and Craig Davis Properties over the tower and parking deck. Given that City dollars are already allocated to renovating the Durham Centre deck and the "park" on the unbuilt skyscraper pad above the western half of the garage, I imagine this is a deal to allow CDP to perform the work (at a pace much faster than the City) and get the allocated bond funds for doing so. More on this when the agenda attachments get released.

We'll have a recap of the happenings in Tuesday's BCR.

DDI releases updated downtown master plan

As the Herald-Sun noted today, Downtown Durham Inc. has released its draft master plan for downtown Durham. The plan is available for download (all 91 pages of it) from DDI's web site. A few first key elements and reactions:

First, to no one's surprise, the plan continues to address the need for better interconnection between downtown's districts, addressing both the Downtown Loop as well as pedestrian and bicycle interconnections. Mangum St. and the Loop are suggested for possible two-way conversion or re-creation of a more traditional steet plan, but the plan also notes that improved landscaping, the addition of elements like bike lanes, or in-fill residential projects along the loop could drastically improve the environment without eliminating the loop entirely.

The plan also recommends improvement to the railroad-track challenges in downtown, including improving connectivity between American Tobacco and the city center district and continuing to push to acquire the old Duke Beltline trail to provide better bike/ped connections between Ambacco and the Warehouse and Durham Central Park districts. The Chapel Hill St. railroad bridge is also identified as a major opportunity for becoming an improved "visible gateway" into downtown.

Many elements of the plan, as the H-S noted, are well-aligned with some of the topics that we discussed here earlier this week in terms of Greenfire's reported requests for downtown, including converting open-space lots at Church/Parrish and Corcoran into mixed-use or residential development projects. Other open parking lots, including the county's social services lots and the open parking lots between West Village and the Loop, are recommended for major development.

Continue reading "DDI releases updated downtown master plan" »

Downtown rumor mill: the Durham Centre close to leasing up?

It's been a few months since Craig Davis Properties closed on the deal to buy the Durham Centre office tower at Morgan and Foster. The tower has suffered from a relatively high vacancy rate, with close to one-third of its square footage being available for lease. (The tower was originally developed by Frank Wittenberg, who had plans to build a luxury condo on the adjacent parcel -- the parking deck was built to support two twin towers.)

CDP's web site continues to list almost 80,000 sq. ft. of available space for lease, but the rumor in downtown development circles is that the remaining office space in the tower is close to being snatched up by a tenant. Which would obviously be a good thing for Craig Davis -- but also a good thing for restaurants and other businesses downtown, since one could ballpark a few hundred office-workers fitting in to that much square footage.

More on this as things develop.