Bonfield steers new course for City government
N&O: Fayetteville gets $270m loop, bypassing Durham and other cities

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for November 21, 2008

A few interesting items in the Fishwrap this morning:

  • City Council members have asked the administration to do a better job getting the word out about water/sewer rate increases, which have allowed the city to catch up with needed infrastructure to improve the water supply but which have created a backlash of complaints to City Hall. (We here at BCR guess people have quickly forgotten that little "drought" thing.) (H-S)
  • The Lakewood Y deal was approved by the school board yesterday, paving the way for a new Montessori magnet middle school at the Lakewood site. (H-S)
  • December 6 is the date for Durham's holiday parade, which will reverse last year's route and run from American Tobacco up to Foster & Geer. (H-S)
  • Durham music scene veteran Will McFarlane was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville in October, a nod to his time with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. (N&O)
  • If you've missed the Indy's coverage of the DPAC this week, check out their web site. Hilarity ensues when DPAC architect Phil Szostak takes the Indy's Matt Saldaña to town in the comments over what Szostak claims is a misinterpretation of how the guaranteed maximum price contract worked on the deal (as contingency funds not needed for geological work were used instead to improve the interior aesthetics of the building.) Also fun: the Indy complains that the DPAC didn't get a black-box theatre while also complaining that the city spent too much while also complaining that the sound system isn't good enough, while also (?) praising the city for spending far less on this complex than other major cities spend on smaller ones. (Indy Weekly)


David Fellerath

Hey Kevin:

Glad you enjoyed our DPAC coverage!

However, I need to take issue with your suggestion that our point of view is inconsistent. We're actually pretty clear in our reporting that Durham has spent an enormous amount of public money for a gigantic building that is not completely realized and does relatively little to serve homegrown arts.

We're a newspaper: It's not our job to cheerlead civic projects.

One other thing: You've misspelled Matt Saldaña's name as "Seldana". If you're interested, you can make the Spanish "enya" in HTML code by typing & n t i l d e ; (i'm putting spaces between the characters so it won't publish the letter itself).

Thanks for reading and see you at the DPAC,
David Fellerath
Indy Culture Editor

Kevin Davis

Hi David -- first, apologies to Matt for the misspelling on both counts. (And I learned how to make an enya in html, huzzah!)

To clarify my point on the Indy: I certainly don't think it's the Indy's role to "cheerlead civic projects." I have far more respect for the Indy than that.

That said, I also tend to think of the Indy as decidedly an alt-weekly; a newspaper after a fashion, yes, but not one that hews to the modern separation of opinion and reportage.

(Lest one think I'm throwing bricks from a glass house -- yeah, BCR isn't traditional journalism, but I think that's something I've been explicit about on the blog.)

Looking back through the archives, the Indy's been fairly negative on the DPAC for years, since at least the Clear Channel bit, though there were some positive thoughts back when it was still the Terry Sanford project, it seems.

Personally, I've appreciated much of the Indy's reporting on the DPAC. The insights into the living wage issue in Matt's article this week were interesting; so were the thoughts last year on the naming rights issues, for instance.

But at times, to my mind, the editorial viewpoint can outpace the material. To wit, from Matt's article:

"After seven years and millions of dollars, there are high hopes that DPAC will be a cultural asset for the city. Yet, it also symbolizes the pitfalls of many such high-stakes public projects: Accountability and transparency are sacrificed. Money is mysteriously moved around. Extra costs pile up and there is pressure to pay them. As for where the buck stops, it's still unclear, but the city is responsible for 67 million of them."

'Accountability and transparency' -- Matt's article takes to task the supposed 11% increase in project cost, but it appears that the project came in on budget -- or could have, if the City had chosen to maintain the initially-ordered materials. The finding that the contingency dollars could be spent on plush stuff instead of rocks was covered here at BCR in summer 2007:

'Money is mysteriously moved around' -- I think this is a reference to the $100k extra given to PFM for the grand opening. Matt does a one-said/the-other-said on the opening date (a change in which is referenced by the city as the driver behind the extra grand opening money.) Going back a couple of years to the H-S coverage, it looks like "spring 2008" had been the original opening date for the facility, which would have been consistent with an Aug. 2008 date for Nederlander to start programming.

But, here's my absolutely favorite:

'the city is still responsible for $67 million of them [i.e., dollars].' David, I've looked back through the original Nov. 2007 Indy article. I've looked at the other articles since then.

Exactly once -- in a sidebar note in the Nov. 2007 issue -- does the Indy reference the fact that, of the $2.5 million annual payment to be made in debt service on the facility, $1.4 million of that comes from the hotel occupancy tax.

$800,000 comes from the naming rights (which, as the Indy has done a good job demonstrating, is a risk.)

But I somehow think that your average reader, making it through all the Indy Weekly pieces on the theater since 2007, would be likely to miss the point that 60% of the facility's debt service is being paid by tourists and visitors to the city.


None of which is to say that the Indy hasn't done some interesting reporting on this. But frankly, David, as much as I like and respect all y'all over there, there are times that stories take on a hatchet-job nature.

Caveats to the naming rights and living wage aside, frankly, I've tended to find the coverage to be aggressively pessimistic where the DPAC is concerned, to the extent of making mountains out of some molehills, as the case of the GMP/contingencies appears to be, from Szostak's rebuttals, at least.

That the Indy's POV in this series is consistent with a view on the role of the DPAC relative to homegrown arts is not to be argued.

That said, when one finds it hard to know where the editorializing ends and the reporting begins -- and I've certainly had to separate the kernels of wheat from the occasional chaff reading through the series -- to this reader, at least, the value of the product is diminished.

Again, it's not up to me to say what the Indy's vision is. Maybe when I've been around a quarter century the way y'all have. :)

Still, when my hometown is thinking of spending $350 million on a performing arts center no larger than the DPAC (with the addition of a couple of smaller theaters), while tearing down its 1920s auditorium (while Durham found a way, two decades ago, to preserve the Carolina) -- I have to think we're on the right track.

I did find amusing the comment on one of the DPAC's story saying that the Indy is all in the tank for Raleigh. I suspect many of the Wakers who bemoan the demise of the Spectator feel differently. If only dear Bernie could have been banished further than the realm of bad glossy magazines and right-wing blogs....

Yours in Durhaming,


David Fellerath

Thanks for taking the time to write this, Kevin. If you'd like to cross-post in our comments page, please do.

We aren't often accused of a pro-Raleigh bias, btw. So, we'll take it when we get it, even if it's unfounded!




Thank you so much for this blog. This post expresses exactly what many fellow Durhamites and I have been saying about the Indy's coverage of the DPAC for a long time.

It seems, at times, that the alt-weekly mentality is to be critical and cynical immediately and call it "journalism."

Durham seems to be dammed if it does and dammed if it doesn't, in the Indy's eyes. I can't help but assume if the theater hadn't been built, the Indy would have published a snarky cover story about how artless our downtown is, and how cool it would be to have our own large theater downtown.


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