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January 2009

Copa Vida Coffee to hold grand opening today

Copavida Copa Vida Coffee, the new coffee shop/cafe located in Erwin Terrace off Duke's West Campus, will hold its grand opening celebration this evening.

Owner Christine Callan is planning to feature live music on the last Saturday of each month -- a trend that begins tonight with a performance by Copa Vida's barista/musician, Patrick Phelan. Free coffee from Counter Culture and pastry samples from Guglhupf will be featured today while supplies last.

The shop, which opened recently in the slot at Erwin Terrace where Shade Tree Coffee sat since the center's opening, has a menu that includes espresso drinks, teas, hot chocolate, and seasonal coffees:

Copa Vida is the brainchild of Colorado native Callan, who intends the café to be the kind of warm, comfortable destination where people from all walks of life, professions, and circumstances can build community through the common threads of great coffee and conversation.  She also thinks it will be a great place for students from nearby Duke to study, relax, and catch up with friends, study partners, and professors. 

"Beginning with the incredible-quality, sustainably produced coffee we serve and our emphasis on great service, we strive to be the best café in the area,” said Callan, who recently relocated to Durham from Colorado.  “We also want to be a good neighbor, make our customers to feel at home, and make a positive difference in our community.”   

In addition to the coffee, food, and music, Callan also plans to feature the work of local artists, host special events, club meetings, and other groups looking for a friendly place to gather.  

The cafe, located at 2816 Erwin Rd., is open 7am-10pm six days a week (closed Sundays.)

Shooting the Bull: Podcast for January 29, 2009

In this week's edition of "Shooting the Bull," Duke economist Charles Becker talks with Kevin and Barry about his urban economics class and its Durham focus, and talks about some of his students' findings on race, class, crime and other conditions. Plus, Barry and Kevin catch up on this week's City employee appreciation lunch debate and two differently-received streetscape projects.

Thanks as always to the folks at WXDU for the opportunity to host this weekly show.

If you missed the Thursday night broadcast, you can download or listen to the show from the Internet Archive, or listen to it via this embedded player. You can also subscribe to the show in iTunes, via WXDU's hosted podcast.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 30, 2009

  • While Durham officials have lobbied the local legislative delegation to overturn the controversial and expensive Jordan Lake rules -- which could cost Durham taxpayers $300-600 million to implement -- the N&O's Jim Wise notes that other representatives have already filed such a bill in an attempt to overturn all twelve regulations. (N&O)
  • The odd-ball rape/kidnapping saga that's seen charges levied against a former Durham Democratic Party official and her boyfriend took new turns on Thursday. Charges were dropped yesterday against a third person, Diana Palmer; authorities had alleged she had removed evidence from the home of Joseph Craig and Joy Johnson. (H-S)
  • Meanwhile, in yet another strange turn for the case, ABC 11 is reporting that Durham P.D. Chief Jose Lopez has been interviewed in the case, as he and his wife "visited the home during the same time period the alleged victims claim they were abused, but never witnessed any suspicious activity," according to WTVD's web site. The site notes that the household had a number of parties and events due to the couple's role in politics and the community. (ABC 11)
  • A Durham man Tasered by a D.P.D. officer during a traffic stop is, with his attorney, asking for further review of the department's policy on use of such devices. Reginald Woods notes that the judge in his resisting-arrest case threw out the charges due to the officer having no reasonable suspicion to pull the driver; internal affairs reviewed the case, but personnel privacy laws have been cited in the department not disclosing whether the officer's actions were found to be inappropriate or appropriate. (N&O)
  • A firm that hauls sludge away under a City contract has seen one of its VPs plead guilty to a bribery charge in Detroit over that city's $1.2 billion deal. Synagro, in line for a new five-year contract, has worked with the city for eighteen years; administrators note they will look into the matter, while the company states that the charges only tained that vice president, who was terminated by the company. Durham officials also note they've been happy overall with Synagro and that the Bull City's contract is handled out of the company's Baltimore office. (H-S)
  • A new state report card finds that public school teacher retention lags the state averages in a number of areas, as do high school graduation and fully-licensed teacher rates, among others. (H-S)

Great Outdoor Provision Co. closes at Northgate

The Great Outdoor Provision Company -- a Northgate Mall fixture since 1995, as well as a community partner on a number of charitable efforts -- closed its doors yesterday, becoming the latest retailer to close its doors in light a stuttering economy and a mall in transition.

The outdoor equipment retailer maintains its Raleigh and Chapel Hill locations, according to this company press release; the store manager has a new home at one of the City of Oaks shops.

GOPC had been located along the Gregson St. side of the mall, one of two outdoor stores on that end of the plaza. The shop opened in 1995, amidst the family-owned mall's heyday, when the once purely-midmarket mall was becoming the upscale mall in town, attracting retailers like Ann Taylor and Talbots as South Square suffered.

Today, South Square is a SuperTarget, and the Streets at Southpoint serve as the retail epicenter for Durham commerce.

And two-thirds of that retail troika listed above at Northgate are gone -- though not Talbots. A local Internet message board's rumor of Talbots' closing appears to have missed the mark; the retailer has closed its interior mall entrance but is still accessible from Gregson St. at slightly reduced hours.

Also gone from Northgate: Ultimate Comics, which appears to have wholly replaced its brief Northgate stint with its new digs on Ninth St.

(Incidentally, if you haven't been to the Northgate web site in a while -- stop by and check it out. The new photo montage in particular is most interesting.)

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for January 29, 2009

Here's some of the other top stories from yesterday and today in local news:

  • That rec center proposed for the old Trinity Ave. YMCA may fall through for the time being, as the City takes a hard look at whether to spend the initially-approved capital dollars to buy the facility from Duke, which until recently has used it as a diet and fitness center. City manager Tom Bonfield suggests that even if the City continues its current capital spending, it might look harder towards investing in projects that don't add cost increases for operational budgets, something that a staffed rec center would do. (H-S)
  • The H-S' Ray Gronberg notes a contratemps for some Durham residents whose streets had been up for paving in the list provided for the 2007 bond issue -- it looks like the decision to pave a .25 mile stretch of Harvard Ave. in NECD, a project not originally on the 2007 list of bond promises, will push back projects like the initially-offered .1 mile paving of South Park Drive. The latter completed its necessary petition process; the former could not, thanks to the opposition of a single property-owning church. (H-S)
  • Orange Co. commissioners will discuss on Feb. 17 a proposal to join a regional effort with Durham, Cary, and Chatham Co. on developing a new water intake from Jordan Lake. Orange commissioners raised some questions as to why Durham would be be the lead agency in the effort, though their staff noted Durham's own special interest in ensuring access to more water. With Chapel Hill and Carrboro reps still to be consulted, look for some grumbling over growth policies in the Bull City to ensue. (H-S)
  • A collection of Picasso paintings from the collections of Yale's art museum and from Duke art museum benefactors the Nashers will show in both institution's museums this year. The seventy paintings will make their way to Duke's Nasher Museum from August 2009 through the end of the year. (H-S)
  • Crime in the non-city portion of Durham County dropped 14% in 2008, after a 19% rise in 2007; break-ins were the one area of increase. (H-S)
  • The 810 Minerva project we discussed here earlier this week won a 5-2 vote for a minor special use permit from the Board of Adjustment, meaning the effort has passed its only required legislative hurdle. An agreement by the developer to secure parking and waste facilities from a neighboring property sealed the deal for an agreement between applicant Ben Greene and residents from the Bullington Warehouse condos. (N&O)
  • Kids, pack your umbrellas: re-roofing projects appear to be first up for axing after the give-back of $3.1 million to the County; lottery funds were intended to be used towards the capital efforts. (H-S)

Councilman Brown's food fight: perfectly-aimed banana creme pie or rotten tomatoes?

News in Durham's a funny thing. You announce a massive $55 million streetscape proposal, and -- save for the intrepid Jim Wise over at the N&O -- there's no mass media coverage.

On the other hand, you come forward to grouse about an employee luncheon event that cost $16,000 last year, and you get every newspaper and TV station seemingly slobbering over each other to get their cameras and their notepads on the scene.

Durham's silly season, which usually gets its start only after the filing period, began early this year, from somebody who ain't even on the ballot this fall.

Yes, the flashbulbs you heard going off were for Eugene Brown, who's always been willing to speak his mind -- be it on the lacrosse matter, or the drought, or the probation system.

(We at BCR have wondered at times whether the camera crews run to Gene's house when he breaks news, or if he just keeps a camera and set handy in his basement to sat-feed it up to the local yakkers.)

The target of Brown's concern this time? A luncheon scheduled for next week at the Marriott; it's a twenty-year tradition honoring staff for major service periods (ten years or longer) as well as employees who've won awards for superior performance.

And while the event wrung $16,000 out of city coffers last year, Brown's estimated a $45,000 tab that includes an open-invitation assumption, the cost of administrators' time planning the event, and the lost productivity of attending employees.

While Brown's often on the mark in scrutinizing spending, though, does this dart hit the bullseye, or go astray?

I'd vote the latter -- for a number of reasons.

Continue reading "Councilman Brown's food fight: perfectly-aimed banana creme pie or rotten tomatoes?" »

DDI: West Village streetscape improvements, Downtown Loop study to start soon

Wvillage Speaking of roadway improvements, two big pieces of news from Downtown Durham Inc.'s Bill Kalkhof, who's passed along some downtown updates.

The streetscape work on W. Main St. from the Downtown Loop to Duke St. are scheduled to begin in March; the low bidder, Lanier Construction, clocks in at $2.3 million for the 0.2 mile stretch -- which translates to $2,162 per linear foot by the new streetscape math. The City's project specs note that this includes "grading, paving, curb and gutter, drainage, sidewalks, signal installation, landscaping and all associated appurtenances."

That brings the project well under the $3.6 remaining in its project budget; the effort is partially funded by the U.S. Economic Development Association. No word yet on whether the remaining funds will go to the other neighboring streets, like Duke, Fuller, and W. Morgan, which appear on the City's CIP project listing but which aren't in scope for this bid.

The project -- which will go before City Council on Feb. 16 -- is expected to be completed in March 2010.

In other news, the $100,000 allocated in this year's City budget to study the Downtown Loop and to help plan its return to a two-way street is currently being spent, with traffic engineering firm Kimley-Horn expected to complete the study in the next few weeks. After its review by city staff, public hearings on the proposal and any needed revisions will precede formal review by City Council.

More on the subject, in Kalkhof's own words:

Downtown Street Improvements Moving Ahead

On behalf of DDI, I wanted to update folks on two major downtown street improvements projects:  West Main Street from the Loop to Duke Street (through West Village) and the Downtown Loop.

West Main Street

As many of you may recall, a major deal point of the public-private partnership between the City and Blue Devil Partners was for the City for make significant improvements to the streets around West Village – Phase 2.  I am pleased to report that the improvements to West Main Street from the Loop to Duke Street are scheduled to break ground in March.  The improvements will include extending the streetscape improvements in the City Center District along this stretch of West Main Street, and to bury the utility lines under the street.

Continue reading "DDI: West Village streetscape improvements, Downtown Loop study to start soon" »

BCR late edition today

Between Frank Hyman's politics class and some Federal income tax filin', I ran out of time for blogging last night, so the usual daytime updates won't be here today.

Instead, look for our usual coverage after work hours today. There's certainly some interesting items going on today in the Bull City:

  • Will the deal to acquire the old Trinity Ave. YMCA from the City fall victim to budget cuts? Bonfield says maybe, as the City's re-evaluating all its capital projects. See more in the Herald-Sun.
  • Is City Councilman Eugene "Flush Only If" Brown (back when the Councilman was fighting the drought through better commode practices) turning into "Shut It Down" Brown, after his push to get the City to cut back on an awards and celebration lunch for City staff? (H-S)
  • Could a deal on adding a new water intake at Jordan Lake be moving forward? Signs from Orange Co. look positive. (H-S)
  • And the N&O fleshed out a bit more the "Is Chapel Hill cool anymore?" story that drew so many comments here over the weekend. (N&O)

Plus, the signage is up for "The Brownstones," the next-generation development project for the site that was to be The Chancellory at Trinity Park. Is ground-breaking on the horizon -- and has the cost profile of the units changed with a less-dense development?

See ya on the workday's flip side.

Fayetteville St. streetscape: No private land takings; $33m cost; and did we mention no private property takings?

Consultants from EG&G Group and Chris Dickey from the City's Office of Economic and Workforce Development last night presented the proposal for the Fayetteville St. streetscape improvements to a crowd of over thirty Durhamites in the Hayti Heritage Center.

The plan will consist of work entirely in the public right of way and, at a proposed cost tag of just over $33 million, could take over ten years to implement in as many as four phases. The proposal would not require private takings of land, and would focus on "curb-to-curb" improvements.

The two-mile-long project would improve sidewalks and street lighting, add attractive parking and crosswalk features, and make the area more attractive to businesses to open up in the corridor. The proposal would, BCR learned, not require any private land takings.

Oh, and did we mention that the City wouldn't need to take (almost) any private land to make this project worth?

Yes, we're repeating ourselves. But it's the only way that you, gentle reader, can have an accurate understanding of how last night's meeting transpired.

Continue reading "Fayetteville St. streetscape: No private land takings; $33m cost; and did we mention no private property takings?" »

INC to tackle oppo side to billboard as org's listserv, bylaws heat up

The Inter-Neighborhood Council -- which heard from representatives of Fairway Outdoor Advertising at last month's meeting -- will hear the opponents' side of the argument over changes to Durham's billboard ordinance.

Tom Miller, a fixture of local land-use and neighborhood discussions and one of the chief standard-bearers in Durham's decades-old battles over billboard ordinances, will present the "con" side to the industry's proposal, which would allow fix-up and relocation of current billboards and the conversion of some to electronic/digital signage.

(We here at BCR will unfortunately have to miss tonight's meeting due to a conflicting class schedule; any BCR readers want to attend and take notes?)

The presence of the item on the agenda comes after a pitched battle on the INC listserv in recent weeks, with arguments between proponents and opponents of billboards increasingly squabbling over the billboard proposal.

Continue reading "INC to tackle oppo side to billboard as org's listserv, bylaws heat up" »