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March 2009

"Main Street" update: casting picture starts to become clearer

We noted here yesterday that the feature film production of "Main Street" would be looking for extras this weekend in town. Meanwhile, the above-the-line casting is getting clearer, with more starts signed on -- or rumored to be close.

The DCVB's Image Watch update this afternoon reports that Andrew McCarthy, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, and Colin Firth have all signed on to the film, penned by the late Horton Foote.

  • Firth, who got worldwide exposure after starring in the BBC's 1990s production of "Pride and Prejudice," moved on to be featured in films like "The English Patient" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."
  • Academy Award winner Burstyn (Best Actress in 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), portrayed Barbara Bush in last year's Oliver Stone film "W."
  • Clarkson has appeared frequently as a supporting player in a variety of films, including "The Green Mile" and "The Dead Pool."
  • McCarthy, the ex-Brat Pack co-star of "St. Elmo's Fire," has most recently been focused on television productions.

Meanwhile, two other actors are being listed as linked to the project, possibly in negotiations to join the cast. Orlando Bloom ("Lord of the Rings," "Pirates of the Caribbean") and Amber Tamblyn ("Joan of Arcadia") are reported by various web sources to be considering signing on to the production.

Stories appearing in the press describe McCarthy as portraying "a Lothario business manager," with Bloom -- if he's cast -- portraying a "small town policeman.

Forbes: Durham MSA #3 in U.S. for business and careers

Another kudo for the Bull City and surrounding area: Forbes has just named the Durham MSA, which includes Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and other neighboring communities, the third-best place in the U.S. for business and careers.

Durham's easterly neighbor of Raleigh-Cary ranked #1; Asheville, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte also make the top-twenty list.

Bizarrely, the Raleigh MSA outranks Durham's on the colleges ranking, #79 vs. #98; perhaps Forbes and Bert Sperling (the guru behind many of these "Best Places" rankings) are NC State Wolfpack fans, since the presence of nationally-renowned UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke in the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA would otherwise seem to give the nod to Raleigh's western partner in the Triangle.

Durham bests Raleigh in the rankings on cost of living, ever-so-slightly on culture/living and educational attainment, and subprime mortgages -- though both MSAs are among the top metros in the country for low levels of subprime lending. Raleigh outpaces Durham in the rankings on crime, net population migration, and job growth.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for March 26, 2009

Franklin Sadly, the most newsworthy story of the past day is yesterday's passing of historian John Hope Franklin, one of America's leading intellectual lights and the man who practically single-handedly invented the field of African-American studies.

Franklin's own journey is notable not simply for his many accomplishments in a career launched amidst a time of deep racial discrimination in this country. Simply put, despite all the reasons America gave Franklin to grow pessimistic or disdainful of the separate-and-unequal experience of his youth, he rose to become not only one of the strongest voices of its checkered past, but one of its strongest advocates for a brighter future.

Rest in peace, Dr. Franklin. Duke has posted a memorial site remembering the late professor emeritus. More at the Herald-Sun (#1, #2), N&O, and New York Times.

In other news:

  • NCCU held a kick-off Tuesday for its three funded campus construction projects, totaling $70m. A new nursing school just to the east of NCCU's Turner Law building is the signature piece, with a new residence hall addition and a parking deck for the parking-cramped campus planned as well. All three projects are on the campus' master plan, though none require the taking of nearby homes, a controversial subject around Central. City Council members attending were gently reminded by NCCU chancellor Charlie Nelms that their major special use permit approvals would be greatly appreciated. (H-S)
  • Though all county departments are asked to plan 10% cuts, the Dept. of Social Services has warned that many of its services are legal mandates and that if anything, higher demand could lead to increases in cost. The department has identified some optional services that can be expected to be on the cutting board; $20m of the dept.'s $116m budget comes from the county. (H-S)
  • Bad news may be on the way from Big Blue; IBM, which has its largest U.S. employee site in RTP, is rumored to be poised to cut 5,000 jobs from its global services unit, which the TBJ notes is based in Research Triangle Park. Many of the jobs are expected to move to India. (TBJ)
  • The N&O has a look at the architecture of the new Quintiles headquarters on Page Road. (N&O)
  • It's official, baseball fans: the Tampa Bay Rays optioned ace near-rookie pitcher David Price to the Durham Bulls to start the season, purportedly to keep his pitch count down, though we at BCR suspect it's a way to keep him under major league team control longer. Also coming back: a number of fan faves, including John Jaso, Elliot Johnson, Justin Ruggiano, and Reid Brignac. (N&O)
  • The Durham Housing Authority approved spending plans for $4.4m in federal stimulus dollars; new plumbing, siding, smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, and HVAC all get some funding, with energy-efficiency (through replacing appliances, systems and lighting) taking up just less than a quarter of the spending. (H-S)
  • Meanwhile, the DHA expressed concern that the Durham P.D.'s re-org last year -- which removed a special unit dedicated to patrolling public housing -- is responsible for big jumps at a number of DHA complexes. (H-S) (Something we at BCR would like to see follow-up on: earlier discussions of this point, if we recall correctly, noted that the McDougal Terrace and Hoover Rd. complexes lie just outside last year's Operation Bulls Eye target area...? Could this be partially due to displacement as well?)
  • Want to be an extra in the new movie "Main Street," set to start filming here this spring? A casting call this weekend in South Durham may be your ticket. (More info.)

Transit bill: Assessing Durham's chances for passing a transit tax

A couple of weeks back, we looked at the regressive (or not) of the proposed half-cent local option sales tax to support expanded transit services in Durham, Wake and Orange. After looking at the possible objections of Durham state Rep. Paul Luebke and other members of the delegation, and examining some of the arguments for a sales tax-funded transit system from a progressive perspective, we stopped at this cliffhanger:

[The Indy's Bob] Geary raises a second important point in his article -- one which I'll confess, I don't necessarily see: the idea that Durham's rejection of the meals tax last fall is feared to mean that a transit campaign is DOA, too.

That was the thesis of Geary's mid-March analysis in the Indy's blog, musings that came after the veteran Indy Raleigh-watcher heard fretting from pro-transit legislators who speculated that Durham's overwhelming veto of the prepared meals tax last fall had doomed the likelihood of a similar referendum passing for public transit:

But now, as [TTA's David] King remarked in passing and as [Rep. Deborah] Ross joked about at a Raleigh transit forum last week, the big question isn’t Wake so much — although Wake’s not in the bag; the BIG question is Durham. Durham, you see, put a meals tax on the ballot in November … powerful political groups in Durham blasted it … and the voters crushed it....

Thus, Ross’s joke — she said she was repeating a crack House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange) made — that if Durham doesn’t get with it, “regional rail” could end up going from Chapel Hill to Raleigh via Chatham County.

When I read Geary's post, my reaction was, "Well, interesting... but it's more complex than that." Personally, I think the meals tax's failure was due to two core factors: the declining state of the economy, yes, but more importantly the fact that the meals tax's proceeds would have benefitted what might be seen as optional amenities, not core services.

But could Geary be right? Would a transit tax be doomed to political lobbying group opposition and certain failure?

There's now another argument against that conclusion: a new survey from the Regional Transportation Alliance, funded partially by the Durham Chamber, that finds at least moderate support from Durhamites for the measure -- at least as strong as Wake residents', that is, despite the lack of any marketing for the levy yet.

Continue reading "Transit bill: Assessing Durham's chances for passing a transit tax" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for March 25, 2009

  • A recent transit poll found Durhamites "optimistic" overall about the track of their local government, and generally supportive of sales tax options for transit -- though not property tax. (More on this tonight @ BCR.) (H-S)
  • The value of non-residential new-construction building permits for the fiscal year through February plunged to one-tenth their '07-08 level -- $6.2m instead of $62m, a change likely tied to lower governmental, institutional, and private sector spending. New home permits are off by a third. More Durhamites are remodeling, with permits for building additions up 14%, though the "cost of those additions declined by 40.1%," sez the H-S.
  • Some mixed housing news: Raleigh-Durham was among the Southern markets seeing the steepest decline in the volume of housing in February -- though on the very bright side, of twenty metros tracked in the study, the Triangle was one of just three to see median sales prices increase. They ros slightly (less than 4%) year over year. (N&O)
  • The N&O has a nice remembrance of Bill Little, who passed away last month; the chemist was a key player in the founding and eventual success of Research Triangle Park, and also was an important player in the growth of UNC-Chapel Hill itself. A memorial service for Little will be held Friday at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill. (N&O)
  • Speakers at last night's BOCC "Conversations with Commissioners" spoke out against proposed budget cuts that would impact their areas of financial interest. Cuts to a program embedding nurses in public housing got the most speakers, according to the H-S, though reductions in school, library, and criminal justice programs also saw their stakeholders turn out. (H-S)
  • The Durham News' feature this week takes a look at the Mangum 506 downtown condo project underway on the edge of downtown and Cleveland-Holloway and features some photos of the work in progress. (N&O)

INC neighborhoods endorse maintaining existing billboard restrictions

Tuesday night's INC meeting contained much of the usual fare -- an update from Neighborhood Improvement Services, an update on school partnerships, a presentation from City-County Planning on the department's web site.

All of which led to the evening's main event: two competing resolutions on billboards in the Bull City, the night's final agenda item, and the one that drew a crowd of a few dozen residents to the Herald-Sun's community room for the monthly Inter-Neighborhood Council session.

And it was a night for debate, between residents who've been longtime advocates for Durham's existing billboard limitations, and those who've advocated for some loosening or re-examination of the restrictions.

In the end, though, all the neighborhoods' delegates present, with four exceptions, voted to support the first INC resolution, which calls for maintaining existing restrictions on billboards in the UDO. As adopted:

  1. It is the policy of the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham that no changes should be made to the laws and ordinances of the City and County of Durham which would alter the nonconforming status of billboards, allow any billboard to be relocated, or allow any billboard to be upgraded or improved in anyway; and that
  2. The officers of the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham, or such other persons as may be delegated, shall communicate this resolution an [sic] the policy created by it to the governments of the City and County of Durham, to other officials, and to the people generally as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose of this policy.

Only one neighborhood's delegate voted against the resolution; Falconbridge's Rosemarie Kitchen opposed the ordinance on her neighborhood's behalf.

Continue reading "INC neighborhoods endorse maintaining existing billboard restrictions" »

OnlyBurger returns tomorrow; Wine Authorities the first locale

Durham's popular OnlyBurger truck has been sidelined since a wreck three months ago. But it's back now, with a new (as yet unnamed) third partner joining Durham Catering's Tom Ferguson and ex-Restaurant Starlu head Sam Poley.

According to an email from Wine Authorities, quoted on local foodie blog Carpe Durham:

For its return kick-off (Wednesday 4:00 - 6:30) the OnlyBurger folks have decided to join together with Wine Authorities to once again bring you the “Burger Speakeasy”.

Come in the front door at Wine Authorities, and enter the speakeasy after knocking on their kitchen door. Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone, tell EVERYONE!

...The OnlyBurger team is ready to go with the same tasty treats you remember and a renewed energy to bring the burgery goodness to your life, one patty at a time.  They even have that GPS they were talking about…it’ll be up and running by Wednesday night at

INC to feature vote on competing billboard resolutions tonight

Durham's Inter-Neighborhood Council will bring the question of its support for changes in Durham's billboard ordinances, or not, to the forefront this evening with a vote on two competing resolutions.

One would encourage the maintenance of existing rules and regulations on billboards, which forbid their renovation/upfit and do not permit electronic or digital billboards in Durham. The second, competing resolution would support billboard stakeholders' request for digital billboards and for replacement and improvement to existing sign sites.

Individual neighborhood associations have been asked to vote on the direction their INC representatives should follow at tonight's meeting, which begins at 7pm tonight in the Community Room at the Herald-Sun offices on Pickett Rd.

Meanwhile, opponents of any changes to Durham's currently-restrictive billboard ordinances have today launched a new web site with their perspective on the issue. OWD advocate John Schelp also penned, with Larry Holt, a guest column in today's H-S opposing any changes to the ordinances. (The column is currently available only in the print edition.)

Trinity Heights, Duke situation heats up as City Council gets involved

One story we haven't talked about here much in the past few days: the involvement anew of Durham's City Council in the growing chorus of concerns over student behavior and partying in Trinity Heights, the neighborhood north of Markham between Duke's East Campus and Walltown.

IMG_0459 Trinity Heights saw a focused rebirth in the 1990s, when Duke gained control of a number of properties in the heart of the neighborhood, building housing units (including the attractive townhouses) which, by covenant, still are available only to university employees.

Surrounding property owners have invested and re-invested in the neighborhood, with historic renovations becoming a regular occurrence; Lancaster has of late been one center of interest, along with Green (as one of the FlyerBoard ads at right demonstrates.) And a neighborhood of rental houses is evolving increasingly to owner-occupied status.

Sound familiar? It should. The story parallels, though lags, the resurgence of nearby Trinity Park, where renewal began to take hold twenty years earlier. In that case, there were a number of perceived problematic party houses, largely a number of the larger homes along Buchanan and neighboring streets.

(Though plenty of other students live in the neighborhood, many are in smaller homes that are less conducive to big bashes; it should be noted too that, in my experience, the vast majority of students are terrific neighbors.)

Continue reading "Trinity Heights, Duke situation heats up as City Council gets involved" »