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June 2010

Durham's Ashley Furniture to close -- what's next for Westgate Plaza?

Westgate In what's got to be the least-surprising retail move of the year, Ashley Furniture HomeStore is announcing the closure of its south Durham location, with a liquidation sale starting in July, according to a story in Furniture Today.

Make that "lease-surprising," maybe.

The Shopping Center Group -- owners of the Westgate Plaza adjacent to the old South Square Mall site -- had listed the Ashley Furniture retail space as being for-lease since at least January 2009. The company did not respond to an inquiry from BCR at that time about the property's fate. (The plaza is now apparently represented by one Sam Spiegel of Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Samco Properties.)

In shutting its doors, Ashley will join a wide range of businesses, including Circuit City (chainwide bankruptcy) and Applebee's (2005 closure, reopening at Patterson Place) to have left the center in recent years.

Continue reading "Durham's Ashley Furniture to close -- what's next for Westgate Plaza?" »

City said to solve Dillard's disagreement -- as downtown's Parker & Otis faces similar situation

There's an eerie parallelism to two recent disputes between popular local businesses and the City.

Both involve local eateries that weren't informed of, or didn't undertand, the implications of road and streetscape projects.

In both cases, City officials have come in to resolve questions and smooth over relations, but only after the matters have gotten in the papers or have, in the case of Parker & Otis, actually gone to construction.

For Dillard's BBQ, a longtime Fayetteville St. institution and one of the most beloved African-American-owned businesses in the Bull City, the word from City staff is that meetings with the restaurant owner have clarified the actual impact of a road realignment and solved an ADA issue.

For Parker & Otis, the complaints poured in when contractors showed up last Friday, cordoned off the on-street parking zone along Duke St., and removed it in favor of a turn lane -- to accommodate on-street parking for West Village's use, even as the Chesterfield factory that it would presumably serve best sits vacant.

Continue reading "City said to solve Dillard's disagreement -- as downtown's Parker & Otis faces similar situation" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for June 30, 2010

I've looked under the couch cushions, in the back of the linen closet, and under the City Council dais, and I still can't find it -- just where, exactly, did the first half of 2010 go?

In today's news:

More Stadium Fun: How's this for intriguing? Sure, the $9 million renovation of Durham County Stadium is coming along well, with Stadium Authority chairman Tommy Hunt calling it "a real showplace" in the paper today. But Northern High boosters are still bummed that the County will be looking to a Charlotte vendor to run concessions, significantly cutting what they make on concessions -- cash that goes towards other Northern High sports. Northern's athletic director says the high school may actually look for another place to play. Though that sounds more like a negotiating stance than a likely reality, it does come after Shaw University, once touted as a major user of the stadium, backed all but one of their home games back to Wake Co. Two dozen events are planned for the stadium in the year that starts after the August construction wrap. (Herald-Sun)

New Incubator: Joystick Labs -- a business incubator designed to help start-ups in the burgeoning casual gaming field get off the ground -- will be launching in Durham this fall, and working to draw entrepreneurs to relocate to the Bull City for the program. It should be a nice addition to the Triangle's rapidly-growing video gaming industry (nationally, video games draw more revenue than Hollywood movies), and marks the third incubator or accelerator to plan openings in Durham this year. Joystick Labs is pondering a site in or near downtown. (Herald-Sun)

Falls Lake, Transit Hearings Tonight: Two important public hearings and meetings this evening. First, the Falls Lake rules public hearing takes place tonight at 7pm at Neal Middle School off NC 98. (N&O) Plus, there'll be an update on regional transit planning from 5:30pm to 8:00pm tonight at the downtown public library on Roxboro St.

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for June 30, 2010" »

Reports: Restaurant Eden, Portobello Road both close their doors

It's to be expected that small businesses and restaurants will tend to start up and shut down as part of the natural cycle of things -- a natural cycle accentuated, to put it mildly, by the current economic malaise.

Rest_eden  It was a tough day in the BCR inbox, which received two independent reports just hours apart of businesses closing.

First up, er, down: Restaurant Eden, whose owners gave a valiant fight at delivering upscale-casual American dining with local ingredients.

Unfortunately, they were also saddled with the terrible back-of-the-building restaurant space at the SouthCourt Building at Shannon/University that likely helped to kill off the fine Restaurant Starlu.

A reader reported today that the signage is down from the building. The phone number's disconnected, the Facebook page is a bit musty, and OpenTable isn't taking any reservations for the place.

The Restaurant Eden didn't quite make it to its one year anniversary, having opened its doors just last summer.

The second casualty: Portobello Road, the vintage "20th century pop culture" shop in Brightleaf Square next to Dolly's.

A reader reports that it too has shuttered its doors in the repurposed tobacco warehouses at Gregson and Main.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for June 29, 2010

Today's Fishwrap has fresh catches as well as some fish a few days old that might be starting to reek. Let's get to the stories before the smell reaches your nose.

One story in particular worth spending some time on -- a feature in Sunday's N&O headlined "Businesses Flee Chapel Hill." It takes a wide look at some of the challenges our southern neighbor has in retaining startups and businesses that often spin out of UNC, many of which (as with retail stores) end up in RTP or elsewhere in Durham. The lack of a commercial tax base puts a tremendous pressure on homeowners in the weaker shade of blue, the N&O notes. It's a must-read for thinking about Durham's own growth and competitiveness positioning.

Kudos also to the Herald-Sun for its multi-day series on early childhood education, a multi-day series scrutinizing the role of child care, pre-school and other programs in impacting children's development and later success in life. The paper is promising a similar in-depth series later this summer teasing out reasons for Durham's low test scores. It's nice to see the paper devoting so many column inches over so many days to these kind of issues. (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5)

Weather Break Coming -- Not For Long: On the plus side, temperatures will drop late today through Thursday as a cold front brings us back to the low-to-mid 80s. The bad news? By the start of the weekend, the thermometer is heading right back up to near the century mark again. A plus: Durham still has 293 days of water supply left, even though water use has risen with the heat; the steady rains we've had this spring (including some drenchers in May) seem to have filled our reservoirs at least. (Herald-Sun #1#2)

County Passes Budget: The County passed a 5.4% property tax increase to balance this year's budget, a budget that includes nearly 6% more for schools to make up for cuts at the state level. BOCCer Joe Bowser, a strong voice for additional school funding, cast the lone dissenting vote on the budget not over schools but over the presence of nine new positions in the County budget that he claimed weren't needed, saying the funds would be better spent on bonuses to County employees. Meanwhile, the non-profit Durham Companions -- which the H-S notes had been praised years ago by Gov. Jim Hunt but has struggled of late -- managed to hold on to some County funding thanks to changes in leadership but was chided for not submitting appropriate documentation and reports as required in the past year. (Herald-Sun #1, #2)

Triangle Unemployment Rate Steady: The RTP area remains the metro area with the lowest unemployment in the state among major urban areas, with an 8% jobless rate in the Triangle as a whole and a 7.5% rate in Durham County -- though work force shrinkage, not massive increases in job creation, are still a driving force. (Herald-Sun)

Gilead Closes: Gilead Sciences' Durham lab will close down by year's end, cutting 150 jobs with only 20% of those targeted for relocation. The company is contracting the site's R&D work, acquired with its purchase of Triangle Pharmaceuticals in 2003, back to its California HQ. (TBJ)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for June 29, 2010" »

Cummings: Falls Lake isn't "on the verge," let's make sure our billions are well-spent

Wrapping up today's four-part series on Falls Lake is a post by Drew Cummings, a Durham assistant county manager who (with Ted Voorhees from the City) has been on-point for Durham's government officials on the Falls Lake issue. 

All Durhamites should care and will eventually care about the outcomes of the EMC’s hearing on Falls Lake this Wednesday evening at Neal Middle School.  

They will care when their City and County taxes as well as stormwater fees go up significantly to pay for Durham’s portion of the estimated $1.5 billion price tag on the Falls Lake Rules.  To be sure, our estimated portion may be under a billion, and it may be spread out over several decades, but it is a LOT of money.

If Falls Lake were horribly impaired –- if its intended uses were being markedly diminished by its level of cleanliness –- and if it were getting steadily worse, then it might make more sense to start spending huge amounts of money and never look back, even without a full understanding of the sources and dynamics of the nutrient loading in the lake.  

The lake, however, continues to support all of its uses. The bottom quarter of the Lake (where Raleigh’s drinking water intake is) actually meets the state's standards for cleanliness, which in many states would be sufficient for the lake to pass muster with environmental authorities.  

Continue reading "Cummings: Falls Lake isn't "on the verge," let's make sure our billions are well-spent" »

Motley-Pearson: Durham's double-standards and development decisions impact Falls Lake debate

Next in today's four-part series on Falls Lake: Tina Motley-Pearson, an eastern Durham County resident who's been one of the strongest advocate for reducing the impact of development on Falls Lake and who argues passionately that Durham has a responsibility to show the same stewardship for Falls that it has for its own water supply. Tina was previously our guest on the Shooting the Bull radio show to discuss these issues.

In Mr. Bowman’s blog about Falls Lake, he stated: "It is time for primary beneficiaries to take responsibility for the costs as well as the benefit."  He also referenced BP. Using Mr. Bowman’s logic, the Louisiana Fishermen and coastal businesses should have to pay for the oil-spill clean up since they are the primary beneficiaries from clean water.  In my opinion, this is wrong… the polluters are responsible for cleaning up their mess.

Yes, it is really expensive to try and clean up a lake.  The Clean Water Act states the polluter must be responsible for the clean up.  In the case of Falls Lake, most of the pollution comes from Durham. 

Ellerbe Creek is in violation for Chlorophyll-A (algae) over 84% of the time.  Why?  Wastewater discharge and runoff is a major problem.  Durham allows up to 70% impervious surface in the watershed of Falls Lake.  Impervious surfaces are rooftops, streets, and any surface where water cannot infiltrate. By the way, Durham allows up to 70% impervious surface in the watershed of Jordan Lake too, and of course Jordan has similar issues with algae and sediment from Durham.  

It isn't like Durham doesn't understand the correlation between impervious surface and water pollution. Durham only allows 6% impervious surface in their own watersheds of Lake Michie and Little River (critical and non-critical watersheds). Durham County's portion of those watersheds is 21% of Durham County.  

In other words, one-fifth of Durham County is off limits to development because the runoff would impact the water quality of the City of Durham's drinking water supply. However, this is only about 25% of the total watershed for these lakes.  The bulk of the watersheds are in Person and Orange Counties. Durham and Person County had confrontations over these issues years ago.  

Do you see the double standard here?  

Continue reading "Motley-Pearson: Durham's double-standards and development decisions impact Falls Lake debate" »

Bowman: Falls Lake was Durham's sacrifice, Raleigh's gain

For our four-part series today on Falls Lake we'll hear three different perspectives on the debate. First up: former Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO and president Reyn Bowman on why he things Raleigh has the most to gain from Falls Lake, and should pay towards its clean-up accordingly. This was originally posted at Reyn's blog, Bull City Mutterings, and is reprinted here with permission.

Falls_lake_durham In a few days, some interesting opinions will be passed down regarding Falls Lake and it could cost Durham NC $1.5 billion. That’s right, nearly as much as BP just set aside in reserve to pay claims all along the Gulf Coast from the oil spill -- as BP should do, by the way.

It isn’t fair for Durham to be nailed with the cost of cleaning the lake up (see image to left-lake up and right.) Ostensibly the lake was created between 1978 into the early years of the ‘80’s by the US Army Corp of Engineers for flood control but that’s only a part of its function.

While primarily carved out of Durham County, the lake, thought by many to be too shallow, was actually a gift at US taxpayer expense to Raleigh NC and Wake County.

You see, that downstream county and its primary city, Raleigh, now the second largest in North Carolina wouldn’t have developed to anywhere near the extent they have without the gift of the lake from the Federal Government.

For Wake County and its 13 cities and towns, including Raleigh and the metro area it co-anchors with Cary NC, the lake has been a huge boon for economic development, resulting in huge amounts of local tax revenue that would not have otherwise been gleaned. Raleigh has grown 150% and Wake County 212% since its creation.

Continue reading "Bowman: Falls Lake was Durham's sacrifice, Raleigh's gain" »

Falls Lake debate: region's growth, water needs, stormwater past practices all muddy the waters

Today at BCR: Four posts on the Falls Lake debate, in advance of Wednesday's public hearing on the draft DENR/DWQ rules on cleaning up the man-made reservoir (7pm, Neal Middle School). First up -- this overview of the debate.

In his recently-released book "On The Grid," author Scott Huler takes a surprisingly-engaging look at the infrastructure that underpins our modern American cities -- including the dual problems of water and stormwater.

Stormwater, Huler notes, was until recent decades seen as a nuisance, something that was best dealt with by smoothing out and deepening the natural creeks and streams that carry water to rivers and finally to oceans.

And American engineers diligently built such systems of culverts and pipes and other mechanism, a triumph of man over nature, freeing up room for shopping centers and neighborhoods and office complexes.

But that leads to problem #1: that rapidity of flow, in turn, washes lots of undesirable things downstream. Fertilizer; pet waste; petroleum products from our roads. And the faster the water flows, the less time natural processes have to clean the water natural.

And problem #1 leads to problem #2. As a water expert tells Huler in "On The Grid"--

Think of stormwater in reverse mode. Turn on your tap and what you get is actually stormwater.

In most cities, we drink what Mother Nature sends down from the sky. 

And in Durham and Raleigh, these two problems are linked by the very intractable problem #3:

Durham's stormwater, much of it neatly made into rapid-flow channels in all the wrong ways more than a half-century ago, flows rapidly with urban pollution towards a man-made reservoir planned in the 60s, acquired as land in the 70s, and built in the 80s -- and serving as Raleigh's primary source of drinking water.

And just four years after Falls Lake's 1983 completion, as Huler notes, Congress changed the Clean Water Act to force cities to stop their past practices, and to clean up the messes that such practices created.

Continue reading "Falls Lake debate: region's growth, water needs, stormwater past practices all muddy the waters" »

Delayed Fishwrap today

Just back in Durham after a very unexpected trip out of town on Friday, so no Fishwrap this morning. Instead today at BCR: a multi-part series looking at the challenges of Falls Lake's clean-up ahead of this Wednesday's public hearing on the subject.