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October 2010

September 2010

The duality of the Durham thing

So I'm sitting Tuesday night at the Nashville airport, waiting to return home yet again from yet another trip to the home of Cracker Barrel and crappy boroughs.   And I'm making use of what time I have before boarding to catch up by phone with Mrs. BCR, who's been dutifully taking care of things around the homefront while I spend time with a parent whose decline into old age has been accelerating unnervingly rapidly.

On the way back to the airport, I had to return a Budget Rent-a-Truck driven up one-way from Florida with some of Mom's things to to a return site point near the Nashville airport. The drop-off point was closed, so after a key deposit in the night box I found myself standing at twilight out on Donelson Pike, waiting for a taxi in a part of Nashville that greatly resembles Roxboro Rd. between Braggtown and Durham Regional Hospital.

Which isn't somewhere I would typically feel safe hanging around by myself at night, I mentioned to my wife, and I was glad when even the sketchiest Yellow Cab you've ever seen ambled by after my call to the dispatcher.

A few minutes after my phone call ends, a fellow traveler at the Southwest gate who'd been (I thought) napping asked me, "Did you say you were going to Roxboro Rd.? I hope for your sake you're going far north up Roxboro and not staying down near the city."

At which point I did, naturally, what any Durham lover would do. I wheeled on him with the best bless-your-heart icy kindness I was able to muster -- you learn that trick after a few years in the Tar Heel State -- and gave him polite grief.

"Roxboro Rd.? Yeah, I live a couple of miles off of it, near downtown. My wife and I love it in Durham," I said, asking if he lived in the Bull City, and being unsurprised by his description of a Raleigh address.

What followed was a brief regional skirmish in which I suitably defended Durham's honor and made the point that it's a great place to live.

Missing, of course, in my prideful defense of my hometown was the fact that I had just moments before made my own comparison of parts of Roxboro Rd. as being somewhere that, well, I wouldn't want to be near at night.

It is, with apologies to the songwriter who coined a similar phrase, the duality of the Durham thing.

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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 23, 2010

It's a busy day in the local papers:

Fayette Place Stalled: The Indy remembers to follow up on Fayette Place, the onetime affordable housing complex just east of Rolling Hills that the DHA sold off to a private, national developer of university apartments a few years back. The plan had been housing for low-income NCCU students, but Central isn't interested in collaborating on the development, and the agreement with the housing authority requires low-income housing -- leading the purchaser to consider what its options are, three years after the site purchase. (Indy)

Morey Chief District Judge: Marcia Morey will be the new chief District Court Judge for Durham come year's end, as Elaine Bushfan's term is up (and Bushfan is running for Superior Court to boot.) (N&O)

Strong NCCU Class: NC Central's chancellor is describing this year's entering class as the strongest academically and best-prepared in school history, and one of the largest to boot, though a focus on prioritizing housing for first-years has dulled the level of housing complaints. North Carolina and the Mid-Atlantic are the HBCU's largest sources of students. (Herald-Sun)

Still More DPS Testing: Durham Public Schools saw its former in-house head of testing and research (and several of his staff) leave this summer, and is now looking to turn to Scantron for a deal to provide brief tests every few weeks to measure progress instead of waiting until quarterly assessments. High-needs schools with the most room to grow in the district's Design for Accelerated Progress will be the first to pilot the $300k system this year if the school board approves. (Herald-Sun)

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Start-ups showcased at local events, while AKA to highlight artistic/creative entrepreneurs

Two recent events provided a forum for highlighting some of the new companies started, or starting, in the Bull City, while a third is gearing up to provide support for those considering artistic or creative endeavors.

Earlier this month, LaunchBox Digital held an event in Bay 7 of the Tobacco District introducing their seven new start-ups and 16 founders to a crowd of potential advisors and mentors.

LaunchBox Digital is part of a new and growing paradigm in venture capital where, instead of investing millions of dollars in a company, they “seed” very early-stage companies with a relatively modest $20,000 and then provide administrative support, mentoring and advice, and access to more traditional funders who can help their company grow to the next level. 

Hundreds of founders apply from around the world and the handful that are selected jointly participate in a 12-week business building program. This is the program’s first round in Durham having spent a few previous years in the D.C. area.

The founders in this group came from as far as Berkeley, CA, and three of the seven companies have local founders. Because the ideas are “fresh off the napkin” and company names and even entire business plans are subject to change, media attendees were asked not to share specific information on any of the companies until they have completed the program.

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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 22, 2010

It's a two-day edition of the 'wrap today:

SoDur Walmart Proceeding?: The H-S reported yesterday that the successor company to Walmart regional store developer WRS has opened a rezoning request for a 58-acre parcel encompassing most if not all of the Kentington Heights neighborhood -- though a City Council move last year would allow redevelopment of the sewage-troubled once-rural neighborhood even if some homeowners tried to hold out for last-lot-assemblage high prices. Fayetteville Rd. would see some widening, and there'd be two entrances/exits off that road and one off Renaissance Pkwy. No word on what stores would come to the center, but a Walmart would seem very likely. (Herald-Sun)

Nicholas Gift in Limbo: The Duke Chronicle has a nice piece of reporting out this week looking at the status of a $72m gift from Boston Scientific scions and school namesakes Peter and Ginny Nicholas, which a former dean of the school alleges was pledged in 2003 but, as of at least 2007 and perhaps to present, hasn't been paid. A new building for the Nicholas School of the Environment (named for a previous $20m gift) hasn't been built, among other impacts, though school officials had sparse comment for the Chronicle. (Duke Chronicle)

West Point on the Eno Sale: The state of NC now has an option to buy a 62-acre site adjacent to the West Point on the Eno city park, the site of land once zoned for density with the proposed Eno Drive but in limbo and threatened with downzoning at the heart of a multi-year dispute over development potential for the site. The state is considering buying the site to protect the land near the Eno and the adjacent park; City Councilman Mike Woodard tells the H-S he'd like to see negotiations get underway for a possible transfer of the city park to the state as long as events like the Festival for the Eno are preserved. (Herald-Sun)

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Greenfire hotel project gets City incentives nod

Last night's unanimous vote by the City Council to support a $4.2 million incentives package for Greenfire Development moves forward their boutique hotel project.

Greenfire has said they need the funding along with $25 million in proposed stimulus-backed no/low-interest bonds and private equity to complete a nearly $53m rehab of the Hill Building that bears the SunTrust logo downtown.

A $1m incentives vote from the Board of County Commissioners is pending, along with Local Government Commission approval of the stimulus bond issuance, although the bonds would have no recourse to public funding in event of default. The City incentives are entirely contingent upon completion and operation of the project by summer 2013.

Greenfire had hoped to start the project long before now, but the recession's woes put a hurt on their plans. They bought the tower for just $4.1 million from SunTrust, which had acquired the bank that was itself a merger-successor to Central Carolina Bank (CCB), whose initials graced the magnificent structure for decades. (The building itself was designed by the same firm who designed the similar-looking Reynolds Tower in Winston-Salem, and both were warm-ups for the eventual design of the Empire State Building in New York.)

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Cree announces new LED manufacturing plant expansion after state, county incentives

The Board of County Commissioners approved $2 million in economic incentives recently for an expansion by Durham-based LED light manufacturer Cree, one of the county's major employers and a green-tech firm that provides jobs for thousands in the Bull City.

And that expansion was announced today, bringing a nearly $400 million production line (according to weekend reports -- today's news stories mention a $135m investment) and 244 full-time jobs over the next few years along with nearly 90 contractors.

The incentive package was the largest such investment in the past year, but not totally out of scale with those given firms like EMC and NetApp -- thought it drew an outsized amont of attention, even occasional critique, in online discussions and media coverage. 

The perception that offshoring of the new production line could happen if the $2m in incentives didn't materialize was one factor in some of the discussion; one must wonder as well as to politics, as Cree founder Neal Hunter has been enmeshed in the controversial 751 South development as the original owner and current partial investor in the project.

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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 20, 2010

Apologies for today's late edition; your correspondent is across state lines helping out with a family matter the first half of the week. In the news today:

Carolina Blue Parking Decks: One controversial element in the recent NC54 traffic corridor study is the proposal for almost $72 million in parking decks and lots to handle campus parking for UNC, allowing bus service or eventual light rail service to bring in commuters and students. 15-501 on the Chapel Hill side is one proposed site, but so is Farrington Rd. in Durham and two sites near the Streets at Southpoint mall. BOCC'er Ellen Reckhow has suggested the South Square area as one better alternative for Farrington Rd., while elected officials from Durham, Chapel Hill and the university are set to huddle on the issue. (Herald-Sun)

More on OWD Water Main, Paving: We noted here almost a year ago the head-scratching around a portion of Green St. in Old West Durham, which was torn up for repaving only to have that work halted when the City realized a new water main should be coming through -- with the paving going in, anyway, after officials realized the water main would be a year off and it wasn't fair to residents to wait so long for new asphalt. The Durham News updates us all on where the matter stands today, with the water main ready to go and $31,000 of asphalt circa 2009 a loss. Deputy city manager Ted Voorhees says the City does work to coordinate work between departments but that there was clearly a "miss" here. (The Durham News)

OnlyBurger Misses: The leader board had OnlyBurger up in the #1 position until the last seconds of voting, but after the votes were validated -- and we think a commenter here was right when raising worries over brags on Facebook of multiple votes from OB fans, extra support unsolicited by the truck owners that could have been discarded during the final tally -- Big Truck Tacos of Oklahoma City won the Food Network contest and $10,000 for their trouble. (N&O)

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CenterFest annual fall arts festival returns downtown today

Centerfest-logo This weekend marks the 37th annual CenterFest arts festival, sponsored by the Durham Arts Council.

Billed as Durham's "largest cultural and community event," CenterFest has been in a range of places around downtown over the decades, and has seen downtown's downs and ups, too. And this year, it's back again at the municipal parking lot off Foster St. near Durham Central Park, the YMCA and the Piedmont Restaurant.

This year's festival features 124 juried visual artists from eleven different states, who'll be showing off their original work in media including clay, drawing, glass, painting, photography, printmaking, wood, jewelry, and sculpture. Besides getting a chance to see which works will win best-of-show awards, the works are in almost every case for sale if you're looking to pick up something.

Besides the arts tents, CenterFest will feature more than two-dozen performing arts groups on three stages with music, dance and entertainment; there'll also be a kids zone with hands-on arts activities. 

Admission's free, though the DAC asks for a donation of $4.00 per person at entry ($12 suggested donation for families of 4 or more), with proceeds supporting arts programs, artists, and arts organizations in the community.

New web site profiles downtown Durham's growing start-up scene

When people use adjectives like "burgeoning", "thriving", or "vibrant" to describe the start-up scene of an area, they could be exaggerating -- but in Durham, those words seem increasingly pertinent and accurate. The trouble is that our area’s large and growing start-up scene has largely eluded the public’s awareness. 

That is in part because the start-ups remain partially hidden behind a veil of oak trees and faceless buildings. To shed more light on what's happening with startups and new enterprises, BCR is today launching a new series called The Durham Startup Seen that will take a closer look at the start-ups and entrepreneurs in the Bull City.

Joining BCR with this series is Justin Landwehr, our newest correspondent covering start-ups and entrepreneurship. Justin moved from rural Ohio to Raleigh in 2000, and from Raleigh to Durham in 2007 after graduating from NC State with Bachelor’s degrees in Statistics and Economics. He works as a research associate in RTP and lives in a “cozy” old brick ranch just north of the Park. You can reach Justin at

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What conditions are necessary (or, better yet, sufficient) for entrepreneurship to thrive in an area? 

It is a question of great interest to city planners and business school professors everywhere, and while theories abound as to what the right conditions are, it seems apparent that Durham gets many of them right -- including, to name a few, the access to talent that comes with the “brain power” of the area (recently rated the second brainiest city in America), the growing cultural amenities, and the relatively low cost of operating here, especially with regard to office space.

But rather than rehearsing which conditions our city gets right, perhaps a more revealing angle is which conditions we are not getting wrong, and which conditions are steadily becoming less wrong. The answer potentially helps explain the rapid growth of start-ups and resources for start-ups in the area, and provides an especially optimistic view of the future.

For start-ups to thrive in an area, there needs to be a community of start-ups and a community around entrepreneurship. Historically, the community that existed in Durham and the Triangle either was not strong enough or not visible enough to gain much recognition outside of the Triangle or sometimes even within it.

One key element, then, to successfully developing start-ups and entrepreneurship is creating that visibility. And one of Durham's leading voices in that effort himself was late to notice all of the activity happening around town when he started his own tech start-up.

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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 17, 2010

Somerhill Liquidation: The Herald-Sun's article on Somerhill Gallery's closure doesn't add too much that's new after the outstanding coverage by the Independent Weekly, but does note that the gallery was closed as of Thursday, with preparation underway for liquidation sales today and tomorrow and an auction of remaining property on Sunday. (The Indy has previously noted that much of the consigned artwork may have been picked up by the artists rather than available for liquidation sales.) (Herald-Sun)

Bridge Dedicated: Surprised to not see (overlooked?) coverage in today's N&O or Herald-Sun on the dedication of the R. Kelly Bryant Bridge over NC 147, though perhaps they're aiming for coverage in weekend editions. Barry Ragin, though, has some photos and a short recap of the event over at his site; I missed it due to competing commitments, but it seemed a fitting tribute for Durham's 93-year-old historian extraordinaire and longtime keeper of memories on life in our Bull City. (Dependable Erection)

Prepping for the Crimson Tide: This weekend marks the arrival of thousands of Alabama football fans making the drive up I-85 to see the defending national champion Crimson Tide team play the much-improved but still young Duke Blue Devils. Sports bars are understandably gearing up, and we're not sure what's more likely to get crunched worse -- the Blue Devils' offensive and defensive lines, or traffic on 15-501. (Herald-Sun)

Bulls Hang On: The Durham Bulls avoided being swept to defeat by Columbus in the Governors' Cup final round, winning 3-2 and setting up Game 4 tonight at the DBAP. The Bulls must win tonight to force a crucial, winner-take-all fifth game at home. (Herald-Sun)

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