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May 2008

Saladelia confirmed for ATC Starbucks slot; Neomonde to follow?

Update: As a couple of readers pointed out here on the comments yesterday, and as we were able to confirm late in the day on Friday, the Starbucks slot at American Tobacco is being refilled by Saladelia, the Durham-based sandwich, salad and coffee shop located on University Dr., and with a branch location on Duke's campus.

As Monica Chen notes in this Saturday's Business Buzz column in the H-S:

At American Tobacco, Saladelia will be more of a grab-and-go eatery. Ghanem hopes to add paninis and gelato in the future.

And those who absolutely need that jolt of caffeine in the morning need not worry. Saladelia also serves gourmet coffees that feature the organic and fair-trade beans of another local business -- Counter Culture Coffee.

Kudos to American Tobacco: To fill the gap between Starbucks' departure and Saladelia's arrival, management will offer free coffee from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays in the building lobby from June 9 until Saladelia opens.

I'm assuming that Saladelia is a direct tenant of Capitol Broadcasting's at the ATC, though Saladelia does have at least one location on Duke's campus. (The Starbucks at American Tobacco had been operated through Duke's dining services contractor.) Saladelia's food-service operation at Duke's Perkins Library has been a popular -- if rather price -- quick-eats option in the heart of West Campus.

Wild Speculation: According to rumors, though, Saladelia may not be the only new addition to the American Tobacco scene. A BCR reader reports rumblings that a popular Raleigh destination, the bakery and Mediterranean cafe that's been a two-decade staple on the Wake County scene, may look to open up a location somewhere in downtown Durham soon.

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Arts groups circle wagons against "pathetic" arts funding

Update: The Indy Weekly has a nicely-done intra-issue article on the subject posted at their web site.

We talked earlier this week here at BCR about the dramatic cuts proposed in this year's FY09 City budget for non-city agencies (NCAs), including a significant drop in the budgeted support for fine arts organizations, and leaving supporters of the  implementation of the Cultural Master Plan (CMP), passed in 2004, concerned about the level of committment the City has to the arts.

At a high level, the bottom line cuts to arts funding total $115,000, a reduction from $1.61 to $1.495 million in FY09. But these proposed reductions come concurrently with a time of severely reduced philanthropic contributions straining the non-profit sector across the board.

So much so that City Councilwoman Diane Catotti called the level of proposed cultural funding "pathetic" in an N&O article earlier this week.

How severe are the impact of the cuts? According to a number of non-profits, dire indeed. Most notably, according to an email circulating from supporters of arts funding, the popular Bull Durham Blues Festival could be a casualty of the reduced funding to the arts. So too could The Scrap Exchange, which is reportedly seeking a new home and may choose to relocate outside of Durham if funding is reduced. The American Dance Festival and Full Frame, though not going anywhere, would reportedly need to cut staff and community programs, too.

For its part, the African-American Dance Ensemble -- a group featured in the national press, including the New York Times -- finds itself out of city funding entirely, a status change that would be an embarrassment given the organization's level of visibility.

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Taste of Durham (Irony): Drinkin', drivin', draggin', drawin' a low bond

The Duke Park listserv has been buzzing this evening with reports of the always-ugly car-meets-house collision.

This time, at everyone's least favorite intersection, the bizarre Markham/Roxboro menage a car. Everyone's favorite District 2 don, Sgt. Dale Gunter, brought forward the news of the happening:

A 19 year old male, David Lavon Anderson II, was racing another vehicle when he lost control and struck a house at the corner of the intersection causing about $15 thousand worth of damage or more to the home and totaling his vehicle.  The other vehicle was not located and did not stop when the accident occurred.

Anderson was charged with motor vehicle racing, DWI, under age DWI, and of course the accident.

His bond was set at $2,000, unsecured.

Needless to say, our friends in Duke Park weren't exactly thrilled by the idea of a $2,000 bond being set, unsecured no less, for an idiot deciding that racing on a busy neighborhood street was somehow a good idea.

Who can we complain about, they asked? Who set such a low bond for this event?

The name of the magistrate on the case: one Magistrate Wheeler.

Folks, you just can't make this stuff up some days.

Today's safest place in Durham: City Hall

Here's an intriguing item from the N&O's Thursday blog coverage of the FY2009 budget work sessions:

Several dozen of Durham's finest are lining the perimeter of City Council chambers to hear discussion of the police department's proposed $44 million budget.

Of major concern is officer pay, among the lowest in the region.

City Manager Patrick Baker said a detailed discussion of pay for police and all other city employees would take place tomorrow morning.

No officers left after that announcement.

I have no idea, of course, whether this turn-out is an en masse spontaneous demonstration of officer concern over this admittedly important topic, or whether there's any nudging going on from department leadership to say, "Hey, stop on by the Council chambers, will ya?"

I'm going to assume the former. Still, don't expect the latter to be far from the minds of Council. DPD Chief Lopez, who's going through his first budget cycle, made a plea for higher salaries in front of Council during a Monday night meeting back in late April (the same session where the Micro Machines DPD Cruiser appeared on the scene.)

That push for higher pay came in the midst of a discussion of the annual crime report -- an interspersing that BCR sources suggested at the time ruffled some feathers on the City Council, which may have interpreted the call for pay equity as a particularly media-savvy upstaging, given that the media are sure to be out in full force whenever crime in Durham is on the Monday night agenda.

It will be most interesting to see Council's reaction to this particular event, methinks.

Ox & Rabbit to open on Ninth Street on Thursday

This past Sunday, while prepping for our "Shooting the Bull" radio show, Barry and I happened to walk by the "Ox & Rabbit" storefront in Ninth Street, where the construction paper still covered the window, but where the screen-printed lettering emblazoned on the windows now proclaimed the forthcoming arrival of the store, which has been described as a soda fountain-cum-sundries shop.

Located in the pad once occupied by a longtime Ninth Street institution, McDonald's Drug Store, Ox & Rabbit has promised since late 2007 to feature everything from sweet, tasy treats to housewares, clothing, and all manner of other goods.

Looking at the storefront, I noticed the windows above the front door weren't obstructed, but simply were higher than any Durhamite (save possibly a Duke b-ball team center) could reach to peek through. Though not so high as to be unable to stand on one's tiptoes and photograph the Ox & Rabbit's innards via one's smartphone, natch. Still, I hesitated to post spy-photos of an unopened business. It just ain't good karma.

Well, the good word making its way through local listservs is that Thursday May 29 will in fact be the day that Ox & Rabbit opens its doors to the public at large. No word on precisely what their hours will be as of yet, but expect crowds of the curious to swing by over their first few days.

With that, here's our first peek inside this eagerly-awaited new Ninth Street offering. We'll see about getting some legit shots as soon as we can get over there, though I'd be shocked if the good folks at Carpe Durham don't get there first.



See ya at the soda fountain.

N&O blogs its way through the City budget process, City Manager hiring

Sometimes, a downside of being a part-time blogger in a town covered by twice the usual number of professional journalists lies in not being able to get away from the day job to cover interesting local happenings.

On the flip side, a plus side to being a part-time blogger in such a town is... not being able to get away from the day job to cover interesting, yet surely mind-numbing, local happenings.

Which is why I'm sitting this week behind my desk at Ambacco while poor Matt Dees and I presume Mr. Gronberg are stuck over at City Hall, watching the budget sausage get made.

Dees is providing quasi-liveblogging of the budget meetings over at the Bulls Eye blog. Worth reading just for the color commentary alone: Eugene Brown taking on Ted Voorhees over a proposal for a condo project to need two water mains instead of one, the pain of rising fuel costs (and how Durham may not have budgeted enough for it), and the controversial solid waste budget, a major driver of the whopping proposed increase in Durham's city budget this coming year. (Also worth a read: today's print edition story on the fight over non-city agency funding.)

Of particular interest: Dees' reflection of City Councilfolks' frustrations over the budget proposal, which looks to be as relatively inscrutable as ever:

City Council members have not been shy in expressing their exasperation with what they see as shortcomings in the budget presentation.

Staff have frequently been criticized for not giving City Council — or the public, for that matter — enough detail. Budgets include the total dollar figure, number of employees and the percent difference. There's no breakdown of where or why the changes are happening.

Bertha Johnson, starting her first budget season as budget director, took the brunt of it yesterday.

Ah, a brand new budget director and a city manager in his last trip on the merry-go-round. Not, perhaps, the best combination. The rubber meets the road next week, when our elected officials decide exactly what to support and what not to support in the staff's recommendations.

This'll be an interesting year to see how the budget process comes together. In years immediately past, the Council faced the oddly-unifying influence of Thomas Stith, who was notorious for bringing last-minute budget cut ideas before staff and Council, creating a frustrated bloc of officials usually ready to move forward in their own direction.

This year, we've got a Council more clearly split along what we've called (to some folks' chagrin) the progressivist/institutionalist wings, wings that quite unfortunately tend to break loosely on race lines. Cleavages of the latter came up in the non-city agency discussion; will the differences on Council persist into next week's deliberations, or will a common sense of direction -- or, just maybe, a common frustration over this year's budget presentation -- carry through?

Kevin Costner to return to Durham for City's Fourth of July celebration

Costner_dbap_2 The press release came across the wire today and told the story: Kevin Costner's coming back to the Bull City, in this 20th-anniversary year for "Bull Durham."

He won't be in D-Bulls blue, orange and white this time, though. And he won't be back at the old Durham Athletic Park, which presumably will have the dirt moving and the grass torn up by then as part of its renovation project.

Instead, he'll be coming to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to perform a concert with his band, Modern West, with whom the actor performed (in an earlier incarnation of the group) before his movie career took off. Costner and his backing band will appear at the DBAP on Friday, July 4, for the concert, which will be followed by the City of Durham's annual fireworks extravaganza.

Read more over at the Durham Bulls' web site, or sign up for access to web pre-sales for the event on June 4 (tickets otherwise go on sale at 9 am Thursday June 5 via the Durham Bulls box office.)

Planning's Medlin highlights new strategic directions, management style at INC

Newly elevated from interim to full-time status as director of the City/County Planning Department, Steve Medlin spent an hour speaking to the Durham Inter-Neighborhood Council at the Herald-Sun offices on Pickett Road last night.

In a loose and often frank discussion, Medlin held court on planning and zoning issues and tackled process and procedural questions from the INC's typical constellation of Durham activists.

Medlin was invited to speak to the group about Durham's environmental protection ordinance, and the topic remained the focus of both Medlin's comments and many questions from the audience.

He noted that Durham's environmental protection standards exceeded Federal regulations before and after the current ordinance's passage in 1999, with Bull City requirements rising commensurately with increased stringency on the national level. Wetland, steep slope, and flood plain requirements were all listed as being ahead of national standards, some of which are required to allow the region to participate in the Federal flood insurance program.

Durham's planning director, a two-decade-plus veteran of the City and County planning offices, noted that two issues not at the forefront nine years ago -- tree coverage standards and mass grading -- were likely to get increased scrutiny in the coming year.

Medlin noted that the Joint City/County Planning Commission would consider the Planning Department's work program priorities for the coming year, and that the department planned to advocate for the need for further review of both issues.

“When you don’t mandate the preservation of specimen trees, that’s an issue," Medlin said, referring to today's ordinance and practices, which -- outside of the new Tuscaloosa-Lakewood neighborhood protection overlay -- do not add special protection for mature trees on lots. "We’re not sure where we want to go yet. That’s one of the things were going to be going out and doing some outreach on, to see what the community wants to see protected. Is it the perimeter of the site, adjacent to the right of way of other adjacent residential properties?”

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FY09 City budget: Non-profits gear up for significant cuts

One item in the proposed City of Durham budget for FY09 that hasn't gotten as much play yet in the local press -- save for a mention of this subject raising Mayor pro tem Cora Cole-McFadden's eyebrows -- are the cuts recommended for so-called non-city agencies (NCAs), the non-profits that provide youth, community development, health/safety, and arts services in the Bull City.

The cuts aren't quite as severe as the initial bottom-line number looks -- $785,000 proposed for the new fiscal year, versus $1.55 million in FY08 -- since last year's NCA awards included $581,000 in funding for the Durham Arts Council, whose proposed funding in the same amount is qualified this year under the Contract Agencies category, as with the Carolina Theatre.

Adding those funds back in for a like-like comparison, you're at $1.37 million, a reduction of almost $200,000.

Yet the proposed pain isn't equal across the board. NCAs in the Community Development and Health and Safety categories are set to increase by 25% and 21%, respectively, for a total change of almost $70,000.

Youth and Arts NCAs take the big hit. Arts NCA funding is proposed to decline by 13%, or $132,000, while youth programs would decline by almost $106,000.

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H-S, TDN op-eds frame the development review debate: the how's vs. the what's

A newcomer to the Bull City might scratch their heads over the ongoing mention of the "development review process" in the local papers, and here at BCR, and on other blogs, and neighborhood listservs, and so forth.

It's a complicated subject, and one that gets very quickly into detailed discussions of land use practices and policies. Heck, even the City Council is taking its sweet time with the subject, with Ted Voorhees spoon-feeding pieces of the recommended development review streamlining a month at a time until January.

But if you want an introduction to what is, I suspect, the subtext behind the debate, you could do a lot worse than to closely read and contrast the perspectives in two separate guest columns last week: a Wednesday op-ed in the Herald-Sun supporting development review streamlining, and a guest column in Saturday's The Durham News raising caution about growth.

First, the H-S column, from Durham Chamber of Commerce vice-chair (and former Board of Adjustment chair) Bill Brian and Durham Capital Program Advisory Committee chair Patrick Byker, both of whom are active in local development circles:

[T]here are two parts to the development process. The first is zoning, which is a legislative decision that only our city or county elected officials can make, with plenty of notice provided to any potentially affected citizens. The zoning determines what use (retail, office, industrial or residential) can be developed in a particular spot, and at what density.

The second phase is the site plan, which shows how the project actually will be built to comply with technical requirements of existing law. The site plan is an administrative approval, based on reviews of plans by numerous city and county departments.

For both the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and the Capital Program Advisory Committee (CPAC), the focus on streamlining the development review process has been directed at the site plan stage. Too often, unnecessary conflicts between departments and arbitrary decisions within Durham's government can slow this process to a crawl. According to MWH Global, the city's own consultant for speeding up delivery of bond-funded projects, the site plan process in Durham takes months, while in similar cities, such approvals take only weeks.

If the Brian/Byker piece speaks to the "how" of development -- that is, the technical process by which development moves forward or, more frequently, becomes caught in the cog of local governance -- the Rev. Carl Kenney addresses the "what" of development, or what kind of growth is or is not good for the Bull City in his view, in his The Durham News column this week:

Slow the massive growth. Take a look at how Durham is beginning to look and feel like -- someone hold my hand -- Raleigh. There's nothing wrong with Raleigh. It's a nice place with wonderful people. Some of my best friends live in Raleigh. According to many of the national lists, it is one of the best places to live in America. I celebrate that, but I don't want to live in Raleigh....

[Durham has] homegrown businesses in an area with an idiosyncratic appeal. I get tired of the same ole, same ole that can be found in typical city, U.S. of A. I don't want a Wal-Mart and Target on every corner surrounded by the normal cast of national chains. I'd rather buy my books at the Regulator versus adding to the Barnes & Noble fortune....

Growth and change can be good. But they also can be the catalyst that slowly confiscates that special brand that makes places like Durham so special. Our quest to become bigger and better could ultimately deprive us of the things we love most about our community.

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