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Wicked is coming -- and why tens of thousands of visitors matter to the Bull City

Walking through American Tobacco this week to my office, I noticed someone down on their hands and knees on the bricks and concrete between the south deck and the Crowe Building, a stencil set and red spray paint in hand.

The stencil? A big Hollywood-style star with the letters "DPAC" in the center.

"So," I asked, "new directions to the performing arts center?" The crewman just nodded and smiled.

It's not a surprise to see the stops being pulled out, what with Wednesday night marking the first night of Wicked's performance in the new performing arts center.

Whether you're a Broadway fan or couldn't care less about musicals, Wicked is a big economic event for the Bull City.

Lynn Singleton, the president of PFM, one half of DPAC's operating team, speculated over a beer last month that the show could bring 80,000 or more visitors to downtown -- a significant chunk of the number of people who visited the theater in its entire first year.

And what's more, there's speculation that a goodly number of those coming in will be making their first visit to the Bull City in many years.

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The success of the DPAC in drawing the public to downtown Durham has been well-documented, here and elsewhere. It's not the first in the space, of course -- the Carolina Theatre has been in the business of entertaining the region for years.

Still, I suspect that somewhere there's more than anecdotal evidence that the DPAC is bringing many first-timers to the city's core. The numbers alone suggest that only one-fifth or so of DPAC ticketholders are Durham County residents, with the remainder hailing from the rest of the Triangle, or the Triad, or even as far away as Down East or southern Virginia.

And many are coming to Durham for the first time, either ever or sense downtown's revitalization took hold.

The Bulls bring in big crowd numbers, too, though to many the ballpark itself becomes a captive destination: arrive, dine, watch a game, drive home.

As Durham Magazine noted in its feature this month, though, local restaurants see a big bump on show nights, as showgoers shop around for places to grab some dinner.

So it's not surprising to see the stops being pulled out, metaphorically speaking, to help Durham put its best foot forward.

DPAC is just one part of the renaissance of downtown Durham, and as the data from the DCVB shows, Durham's image has been on the rise for years before its opening. Save for a downturn in regional image around the lacrosse case, Durham's perception has been on the rise as old stereotypes of crime and grime have given way to an image of funkiness, creativity and originality.

(And the DCVB deserves a lot of credit for helping to get that story out, and for taking a very focused approach to setting an image and marketing strategy for Durham.)

But the sheer number of first-timers coming through for Wicked is likely to be one of the biggest exposures that Durham gets from new eyes in some time.

And that means you can expect to see lots of shoes being polished as Durham looks to put its best foot forward starting this week.



Cha-ching! It was never a doubt in my mind this thing wouldn't pay off for Durham.

Still waiting for a jealous Meeker to propose a copycat venue for Raleigh, especially if they don't get the Wake Public Safety center approved....


Interestingly enough, I just noticed this morning (Thursday) that those DPAC stencils have been removed from the American Tobacco walkways.

Mohammad Goldberg

Does the DCVB have an information table at the DPAC during performances?

I realize the playbill given during performances has advertisements from restaurants, etc. that have paid to advertise, but shouldn't DDI and DCVB partner to create a small hand out to DPAC patrons, promoting the downtown restaurants and night spots?

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