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September 2010

August 2010

TBJ: Somerhill liquidation auction on Sept. 11?

Another turn in the Somerhill mess: this little tidbit in today's Triangle Business Journal:

A court-appointed trustee is seeking permission to conduct a public auction of Somerhill’s remaining inventory and belongings at 3 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the gallery’s space in the Venable Center complex on Roxboro Street.

Well, that's interesting. Not to profit on misery or anything, but hey -- if you're in the market for art, it might be a good deal. And one has to hope that the monies would go towards retiring more than $1 million in debt, including a substantial amount owed to artists who consigned work to the longtime dealer.

Note the "seeking permission" part of the paragraph. More on anything here when we know it.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 31, 2010

It's a Raleigh story, but it's one Durhamites need to be paying attention to: the opposition swelling up in urban City of Oaks neighborhoods over the state and federal government's high-speed rail proposal linking Raleigh and Richmond.

The corridor will use largely-deserted tracks between the two state capitals, but will tie in to the existing downtown Raleigh rail yard and surrounding access lines. And the alternatives that have been on the tables for years are drumming up neighborhood opposition over noise and permanent street closings to minimize car/rail and pedestrian/rail accidents.

Of course, the progressive communities near downtown Raleigh understand high-speed rail is a good thing and want to see it come to town. And that's where the intriguing idea comes in: an alternative being pushed by ad hoc neighbor groups that would create an elevated rail line flyover above Capital Boulevard, avoiding the toughest takings and keeping the largest number of street crossings open.

The idea comes from residents -- not the state, which so far is cool to the idea. But the quickly arising and now white-hot battle, which is being best covered by the Indy's Bob Geary (#1, #2), has great relevance to us in the Bull City.

The SEHSR project doesn't end in Raleigh; that high-speed rail line on existing tracks will run through to Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte, and perhaps someday Atlanta. And when SEHSR comes to the Bull City, we're likely going to be faced with requests to permanently close Blackwell St. and Mangum St. downtown -- effectively cutting off the city center and American Tobacco districts.

If Raleigh is able to get things rolling on an elevated viaduct for rail, it makes the odds of Durham and other large communities getting similar treatment much better.

More news beyond the jump.

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 31, 2010" »

TBJ marks the Bull City's most dangerous intersections

The Triangle Business Journal this week published a database online showing the intersections in the Bull City and the region where the greatest number of vehicular crashes takes place.

Unsurprisingly, the truly crash-averse would do well to stay away from interstate highways, or at least their off-ramps; the I-40/Fayetteville Rd. intersection near Southpoint has had more crashes than any other in the county from 2007 through 2009. And most of the I-40 and I-85 intersections show up in some way, shape or form.

But there's plenty of interesting outcomes in the TBJ's findings, too.

Continue reading "TBJ marks the Bull City's most dangerous intersections" »

Kinnaird to Orange Co.: We need a Costco in the southern part of heaven

The N&O's Mark Schultz must feel like a double-super-secret agent, editing and writing for The Durham News and The Chapel Hill News. Why, two separate papers, both generated out of the Franklin St. offices owned by the Nando folks.

A weekend story in Schultz's lighter-blue paper this weekend is worth a read -- as much as anything else, for recognizing (and maybe chortling a little bit over) the ongoing economic benefits we get from having Chapel Hill and Orange County to our south.

We covered this ground here recently, but to sum up if you missed it: Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents are typically quite well off, comparatively. And guided by their beliefs, many of them choose to live in a community that, among other things, eschews big-box shopping. But then, the have no big-box shopping in their community, meaning that when they need Target... or Best Buy... or Costco...

They come our way.

[State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird] sees Costco as a way to keep sales tax dollars in Orange County, reduce homeowners' tax burden and provide jobs.

As The Chapel Hill News reported last Sunday, Orange County will depend on property taxes for 76 percent of its operating revenue this year. In Durham County, property taxes make up 58 percent of general fund revenue; in Alamance County, just 49 percent. [...]

Just last week, for example, Orange County Commissioner Pam Hemminger, lamented how she made three trips to Target in Durham to outfit her son's college dorm room. Hemminger did buy a carpet at Lowe's in Chapel Hill but said local shopping doesn't offer the convenience most shoppers need. [...]

[CH/C Chamber of Commerce head Aaron] Nelson and others have long complained about sales tax dollars "bleeding" out of the local economy as Orange County residents drive to New Hope Commons, The Streets at Southpoint and elsewhere to do their shopping.

County residents spend $1.5 billion a year on retail purchases and they spend $1 out of every $3 in another county, he said.

"That's way out of whack," Nelson said, estimating that Durham consumers spend only 10 to 15 percent of their retail dollars outside Durham County.

Well, southerly friends, until and unless you bring a Costco to Chapel Hill -- please, feel free to continue patronizing ours!

While you're here, have you considered visiting our terrific waste transfer station? No need to build one of your own; for the right price, we'd welcome you to use that too!

Somerhill files for Chapter 7; gallery future unknown

Update: The Indy has a short but spectacular piece of research on this, noting that Somerhill owes almost $200,000 in back rent -- and over $275,000 to artists that sent the gallery work on consignment, to be paid upon sale. Rowand, meanwhile, has continued to draw his monthly salary during bankruptcy, to the tune of nearly $180,000 per year. Read more over at the Indy's web site.

A BCR commenter noted this on Friday, but it bears repeating: downtown art destination Somerhill Gallery has changed its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing to a Chapter 7 liquidation, the Herald-Sun reported last week.

Somerhill_2008 Such a filing would seem to imply the closure of the gallery's Roxboro St. location near the Hendrick car dealership and the new courthouse site, though we don't have that on record or confirmed in any way. 

BCR attempted to contact gallery owner Joe Rowand on Friday for comment but a message to speak with the founder hasn't been returned as of this writing.

(We didn't hear back on a message left after the business' Chapter 11 filing, so we're not exactly waiting by the phone this time, either.)

The Herald-Sun notes debts in the initial filing of $1 million to $10 million, much of which presumably is due to their landlord, Scientific Properties.

Scientific had apparently long hoped to open a restaurant in the bay next to Somerhill in their home in the Venable complex's Prizery building -- something Rowand crowed about in a video recorded at the gallery's grand opening a couple of years back.

Has the gallery been challenged by the worst recession in generations? By the lack of the retail draw in the absence of a restaurant? By the relative inaccessibility of the Roxboro St. site, which is isolated by the jail, a railroad overpass and two car dealership sites from the "heart" of the city center and American Tobacco districts? By a customer base in Chapel Hill and Raleigh that wasn't ready to get hip with a central Durham site?

No idea. Our guess here at BCR is, probably some or all of the above.

But will this be the end of Somerhill, after nearly four decades -- or will Rowand, as at least one of the (perhaps hopeful) rumors we've heard suggests, look for a site back closer to his historical location in Chapel Hill?

We don't know. If Rowand calls us back, we'll share what we hear.

Bulls to DAP: Let's play two, as 2011 nostalgia game announced

It's been a good week or more of news for our beloved Durham Bulls.

First, there's the team's clinching of the International League's South Division pennant -- again, and guaranteeing the defending IL and national champions a slot in the playoffs and a back-to-back chance.

Return-to-dap Then, there's the Bulls' victory Sunday, clinching the all-time AAA win record for the franchise (84), and in sight of the 89 wins record set by the franchise in its Class A days back in 1962.

And Friday night saw the Bulls alum Dan Johnson hit a game-winning walk-off homer for parent club Tampa Bay as they sent the fifteen fans who could be bothered to show up at The Trop in St. Pete home winners. 

(C'mon, Tampa and St. Pete. You have arguably the best team in baseball and it takes the promise of a Vanilla Ice concert after the game -- seriously -- to turn out fans in numbers. Why don't we take the major league franchise and y'all can be demoted to AAA?)

But for this Durhamite, just maybe the best news of all came in a blog post from Capitol Broadcasting's sports group VP George Habel, noting that the team would return to historic Durham Athletic Park for a game this coming May.

Continue reading "Bulls to DAP: Let's play two, as 2011 nostalgia game announced" »

Durham MSA #2 on "brainiest cities" list

Online news and features magazine The Daily Beast has re-done its list of America's smartest cities.

Last year, as we looked at here at the time, TDB decided to pump up its pageviews and hits by ranking 55 metro areas from sharpest to dullest, with the conglomeration of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and all kinds of suburban and rural areas making up "America's Smartest City."

This year, the moniker is "America's Brainiest Cities," listing twenty metros and cities that lead on concentrations of graduate/professional degrees along with a predilection for favoring total share of employment of mathematicians and scientists out of the population. 

The 2010 list is populated by Richard Florida, the creative-classist whose metrics on knowledge-economy and creative workers and jobs has tended to favor the Bull City, Chapel Hill and other areas with disproportionate numbers of highly-educated residents.

Not surprisingly, college towns do well -- including well-known places like Madison and Charlottesville and lesser-known lights like Iowa City and Fort Collins.

Major cities like Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Austin, and Seattle also placed highly.

And the Bull City and Chapel Hill combine to rank second after Boulder, Colorado, while Raleigh/Cary comes in twelfth.

Continue reading "Durham MSA #2 on "brainiest cities" list" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for August 30, 2010

Unemployment Down: Durham Co.'s unemployment rate has dropped to 7.6%, a half-percent or so better than Wake and a percent behind Orange and Chatham. The drop in unemployment has come despite a 2.4% growth in the labor force here; in more rural NC counties where manufacturing and homebuilding once prevailed, unemployment rates are falling in large part due to workers abandoning the job market. (Herald-Sun)

RTP Launching Master Planning Effort: Longtime readers of BCR have heard me fret around the low density development in RTP, which yours truly has argued could use an urbanized area including housing and additional flex-space for corporations. No idea if that's on the plate, but we're heartened that the Research Triangle Foundation is launching an effort to build a new master plan for the Park -- its first since the site's founding in 1959. Here's hoping. (Triangle Business Journal

DPS Questioned on Hiring, Homeless: Although a deal with the County led to the funding of many lost teaching positions, only about 100 of the more than 180 teachers laid off in the spring were rehired, something that has not escaped the notice of the Durham Assn. of Educators. School officials say that different principals had different needs and that not every teacher has been able to find a new role; final termtime enrollment numbers may enable additional hiring. Meanwhile, advocates for the homeless say that reorganization within the district has confused the roles and responsibilities, including making it unclear who is serving as the liaison to programs that work with the homeless. (DPS #1, #2)

Connector Ridership Rising: Usage of the Bull City Connector bus continues to rise, with regular daily boardings rising from under 400 to over 600 a day in the first week -- and peaking at over 1,000 riders during the Third Friday event on Aug. 20. Daily numbers were in the mid-high 800s by the bus' second week; the service's goal is to serve 1,100 riders a day after the service's first month and more than 2,000 a day after the first year. (Herald-Sun)

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

Tutti Frutti brings self-serve fro-yo to Hope Valley Square

Tutti-frutti As demonstrated by the line outside Rockwood's Local Yogurt a couple of weeks back -- a dozen people deep under the shopping center shade, to say nothing of the people waiting inside -- there seems to be a never-ending reservoir of demand for yogurt with tasty toppings as a healthier dessert choice.

And, as demonstrated by that very same line outside Rockwood's Local Yogurt a couple of weeks back, that tasty treat doesn't always come instantly when you're waiting on folks to fill your cup and top it off.

Enter Tutti Frutti, a California-based chain of yogurt shops whose claim to fame is self-service. You walk in, you fill your cup from one of the wall-mounted dispensers, you add your toppings, you weigh and pay.

(Those alcoves on the wall? That's the self-serve configuration at one Tutti Frutti location. It's like an Enomatic with a slightly lower alcohol content.)

Reviewers on the social media site Yelp seem to like it and its competitors in the crazy California retail scene have been very popular, and the company's expanded to the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast with a handful of outposts, mostly in Florida.

And, soon, Durham -- where Tutti Frutti will soon open a shop in the Hope Valley Square shopping center, adjacent to the soon-to-open retail storefront of OnlyBurger, according to the shopping center's owners.

Speaking of Hope Valley Square: OnlyBurger is reportedly set to open its location inside two weeks' time or so.

Sew Crafty's "Fun Zone" to offer parental respite on date nights

Looking to go to Dos Perros... but without your two kids? Want to have dinner with your honey at Rue Cler, but don't want to bring the brood there?

Or thinking about hitting up the Locopops mobile cart, but need someone to stand in loco parentis? (OK, sorry, that was a stretch.)

Toni Mason of downtown's Sew Crafty -- which recently expanded its operations to take up the first floor of its Parrish St. space at the corner of Orange -- may have just the thing for you.

Mason has announced the Fun Zone, a drop-off service starting tonight where parents can leave their kids and walk over to Revolution, Piedmont, Beyu Caffe, Toast and the other downtown dining establishments.

Games, crafts, toys, and a "Bouncy House" are all available to entertain the tykes while you dine out. Children must be three years of age or older, and services are only available Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm to 9:30pm. The space is also available for rental for children's parties.

The cost is $8/hr. with a one-hour minimum; siblings get a discount, and reservations are recommended. Contact Toni Mason at 683-1582 or