Tuesday night's Angier/Driver streetscape concept meeting was just as noteworthy for the announcement of a significant public-private partnership at the meeting's beginning as it was for the discussion with consultants and City staff on the sidewalk and street improvements.
Durham's Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Akron-based EG&G Group led the discussions again, as they had at Monday night's review of the Fayetteville St. streetscape design.
But OEWD's Chris Dickey started the meeting by informing the 25 or so residents in attendance that Angier/Driver was the first of the five targeted commercial districts where local government had found a suitable partner with whom to enter into a public-private partnership to draw retail to the area.
That partnership is with Joseph Bushfan, a Durhamite who closed last Thursday on the purchase of three buildings totalling 8000 sq. ft. in the Angier/Driver commercial district, including the former Crabtree Pharmacy, one of the local businesses profiled in the N&O's 1994 look at the then-ongoing decline of East Durham.
According to Bushfan, his Superlative Fine Foods will be working to open three businesses in the structures. A sandwich shop and restaurant will have a pass-through to an Internet cafe, in which he hopes to bring students from UNC, NCCU, and Duke in to work with local youth on job training and skill building.
The third business is planned as a neighborhood grocery store, an effort Bushfan says will be done in partnership with TROSA, which will be running and operating the market. Billy Matthews, late of the Red & White food market that closed last year on University Dr., will be involved, Bushfan says.
This represents a significant improvement for East Durham, which has
lacked for everyday amenities like grocery stores between Weldon
Village and downtown. The only supermarket in that area is likely to be
demolished when the Alston Ave. widening occurs.
"We are really excited about [the partnership]," Dickey said. "The
city can spend money along this corridor… but if you're going to have a
viable neighborhood, you have to bring critical mass to an area where
you bring activity," he added, though being careful to note that the
city's goal was to avoid wholescale gentrification in targeted
The entrepreneur notes that this investment is available in part
thanks to the presence of the OEWD's public-private partnership
program, which seeks to bring private investment back to this and other
blighted commercial districts and which offers grants and other
financing to incentive the start-ups. The City's support for the effort
is "like a lovefest," says Bushfan.
Bushfan noted that the partnership deal, reportedly valued at $200,000, will come before the City Council in their October 16 work session for review.
The entrepreneur, whose wife is Durham's chief district court Judge
Elaine Bushfan, is the former director of security for Earth Wind &
Fire, and currently operations a quick-service food business on Duke's
Having moved to Durham after meeting his now-wife of nearly four years at a concert, Bushfan hopes to bring foods and meats from different parts of the country to the market, reflecting the diversity of backgrounds from which Durhamites have migrated into the city.
Assuming approval of the partnership, look for renovations to begin
later this fall with a targeted opening of all three businesses in
Besides the public-private partnership news, last night's meeting featured elements and designs very similar (unsurprisingly) to those on Fayetteville St. last night. Brick-edged sidewalks, historically-nodded streetlights, undergrounded utilities, landscaping and street trees remained the order of business.
Noting the blighted condition of many of the buildings, several residents asked whether the street would be beautified but the structures unchanged. Dickey noted the presence in the room of a number of local business owners as a sign of their interest in revitalization, and mentioned his office's availability to provide facade improvements. He added that the City was looking into increasing the facade investment for multiple coordinated renovations as to a strip of small structures as are found at Angier/Driver.
The historic disinvestment in this and other economically challenged communities was clear by some of the skepticism shown towards the idea of flower baskets hanging off streetlights, or towards street trees themselves. One local business owner ruefully noted that he wasn't used to seeing streetsweepers in his part of town; who'd clean up the leaves, or water the baskets?
The presence of bricks in the sidewalks was also controversial, between concerns over their loosening over time (EG&G insisted they'd be molded into concrete, not mortar or dirt), and what sounded like concerns over vandalism coming from some business owners who seemed to have feared their use as projectiles.
Another resident asked how far the work would extend from the Angier/Driver intersection. Unlike the two-mile Fayetteville St. corridor, this small area targets to the first intersection away from the commercial crossroads, though it may extend a bit further on its westernside pointing towards downtown, Dickey said.
Other residents of the close-knit community asked how they could
accelerate progress and move to the front of the line. Dickey cautioned
that civic leaders would likely be most receptive to a plan that saw a
phased approach towards meeting all five areas' needs, and importantly,
a plan that was supported by all five neighborhoods. Division and
one-upsmanship, he warned, would be a harder path to winning support.