Liveblogging the Price/Lawson Debate
Burch Ave. area becomes Durham's next national historic district

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 11, 2010

McPherson Demolition Risk: The Durham News' Jim Wise has more community talk on the rumored proposed demolition of the McPherson Hospital at Watts and Main, but representatives from Raleigh-based Concord Hospitality aren't saying anything definitive about rumors that a rough economy has made it hard to justify rehabbing a magnificent 1920s hospital to be part of a new Marriott chain hotel. But preservationists at the city and state level agree the building is worth saving -- despite an exposure-to-the-elements problem during two stalled years of non-development -- and City/County Planning's Steve Medlin warns that the neighborhood and historic boosters aren't likely to let the structure go without a fight. (The Durham News #1#2)

OND Park Back in Spotlight: Old North Durham residents and the Central Park School for Children are again pressing for a community-led improvement plan for the OND Park, which backs up to the charter school -- and to an anti-gentrification non-profit, El Kilombo, which has along with some neighbors raised concerns in the past about a public park asset getting fixed up by non-public entities. The Herald-Sun's Ray Gronberg has the story, and notes this may come up before elected officials in the near future. (Herald-Sun)

Academic Standards at NCCU: With NC Central's big expansion in the past decade has come a larger student body, and the challenge of making sure all of them are ready for post-secondary education -- a double challenge for a school whose mission includes educating many students who come from lower-SES resource backgrounds and who are in some cases the first generation in their family to attend college. Chancellor Charlie Nelms, who's made increasing academic performance a key theme since arriving at the school, is poised to propose increasing the minimum GPA for advancement to sophomore status, from a 1.5 to 2.0. The H-S notes that freshman to sophomore progression improved by 8% last year with more focused mentoring and intervention. (Herald-Sun)

M&F P&L: Mechanics & Farmers Bank has the unfortunate distinction of standing with troubled Capital Bank as one of two community banks in the region where, as the N&O puts it, they have an above-average level of troubled loans for their size. An M&F spokesperson tells the Raleigh paper that a few large borrowers' difficulties created their challenges, but that the bank is again profitable and back on track. (N&O)

DTCC at 50: Durham Tech is poised to celebrate a half-century in existence next fall, and the campus is planning a celebration -- as well as a community service event meant to link the student body, two-thirds of whom are part-time students, back to their home region in a way that community colleges often don't do. (Herald-Sun)

Sikh Suit: The website Sikh News Network is reporting that a civil suit against MM Fowler is in the works after the EEOC took no position on a Sikh man's claims of discrimination by the owner of the Triangle's Family Fare chain; the site relies on sources for these findings, since the federal commission does not comment on specific cases. (Sikh News Network)

Beer Fest: The World Beer Festival was back in downtown Durham over the weekend, this year at the DBAP, and both the Herald-Sun and N&O were there. Most elements of the story are the same as in most years -- growth in local brewers, the importance of Pop the Cap in making NC friendlier to craft beers -- even as the event's location changed. (Herald-Sun, N&O)

Bushfan Featured: The N&O has a nice profile on Joe Bushfan, the trailblazing East Durham entrepreneur helping to revitalize the Angier/Driver area with his diner and a TROSA-operated grocery store. Bushfan will be selling his famous one-pound hot dogs at the State Fair this year, and the N&O's Josh Shaffer takes a look at the dog and the man behind them. (N&O)

Bond Savings: Big recessionary pressures still mean a perverse good news for City borrowing; the H-S notes that a $45 million bond issuance recently made by the municipality's finance department as authorized by '05/'07 referenda clocked in at an interest rate under 2.6%, cutting total payments over a 20-year borrowing lifespan by $6.5m. (Herald-Sun)

GSE Study Helps Durham CIS: That's a mouthful of acronyms, but it's good news for Communities in Schools of Durham. The non-profit will get to expand its Project READS summer-school intervention for at-risk readers, from 500 students last year to 1,000 next year. Participation in the fourth-grade reading skills program will be part of a $13m US Dept. of Education grant to a Harvard education researcher, who'll be examining differential program design elements and how well they work in improving literacy. (Herald-Sun)

Anthony & Co. & Colliers: Longtime Durham commercial real estate broker Anthony & Co. is joining the network of Colliers International and taking that global brokerage's name. No changes are expected for local employment. (N&O)

Comments

Todd Patton

The savings on the bonds due to record low interest rates is just another reason to support the street bonds.

I hope the city and county governments will continue to take advantage of these low borrowing costs and low contractor bids. From schools to sidewalks to parks to those 20 miles of unpaved streets, there are a lot of capital projects waiting on funding in Durham.

TPrez

McPherson could have been a W or boutique hotel, but thanks to Trinity Park neighborhood opposition it will likely become a Holiday Inn. Thanks!

RWE

@TPrez:

It's easy to forget how rough many of the homes on the south end of Watts and along Lamond Street were only a decade ago - or maybe you weren't here then. People took a chance and made a substantial investment in rescuing these properties from serious decline and abandonment, and they are now among the most beautiful homes in Durham.

I'm proud of the neighbors who worked in good faith with the developers on the initial plans, helping to protect the efforts of people like the Isleys, who live next door to the hotel site, and didn't want a parking garage looming over their home. If not for TP neighborhood activism, McPherson most likely would have been razed years ago. So would the historic nurse's quarters, which was instead relocated up Watts Street and renovated at great expense.

While some neighbors admittedly got carried away with opposition to this project and to the planned residential development across the street, the developer deserves a good share of the blame for strained relations. Leaving this hulking eyesore parked on the most prominent edge of our neighborhood for several years certainly hasn't helped. Moving forward with a plan that preserves and incorporates McPherson (as originally agreed) would be a step in the right direction.

Concord is a Triangle-based firm who ostensibly bills themselves as a "green" developer. There's nothing greener than historic preservation, and there's nothing more wasteful than bulldozing a significant part of Durham's past and trucking it to a landfill.

Kevin Davis

@TPRez: I was on the TPNA board during some of the controversy (and still am today - but I am speaking here only for me, not the board), though the hotel issue was before my time.

However, one key point to not be missed: as I understand it, the neighborhood saw a joint proposal to develop both the hotel (McPherson site) and the condos and signed off on it. Only then did the developer, as I understand it, sell off the hotel site to Concord and focus on the condos as his project.

I think what was *proposed* for the hotel site was a perfectly splendid idea. And the owner of the building is entitled to construct that.

What's happening now is a proposal to change the plans and do something different. How did neighborhood opposition to the Chancellory -- which happened after the hotel site was split -- have anything to do with that?

Tom Miller

What Kevin posts is true. The TPA invited me to come talk to them about the developers' proposals and I heard one or two oftheir presentations and updates to the neighborhood. The boutique hotel centered on the preservation of the hospital building was the big selling point. At one meeting I counselled the neighborhood to insist on a development plan as a part of the rezoning - a plan which could turn the developers' promises into "committed elements." Frank Duke was at this meeting and he assured the neighborhood that no development plan and no committed elements were necessary. He would protect the neighborhood and insure the preservation of the old hospital with the design review process of his new DDO (downtown district overlay) zone. The developers also resisted a D-plan because their negotiations with this or that hotel developer or this or that lender or the seller of the property were always at some critical stage. The truth is that the developers working with the neighbors were really only interested in getting the property rezoned and flipped at its higher value. (The property was in a very restrictive zone as a hospital and Mr. Duke had convinced everyone that if the property were moved into the downtown district, this looser zone would illuminate all sorts of wonderful things, like Howard Carter's candle thrust into the ancient darkness of Tutankhamen's tomb.)

The neighborhood supported the zone change and it was not until the developers began to submit plans to the DRB (development review board) that granny's shawl slipped from around the wolf's shoulders. Mr. Duke compounded things by providing the developers with a couple of absurd opinions about what they could do which stood the zoning code on its head. The new plans presented a hotel with a parking structure to be built within feet of the neighbors' foundations and a condo complex (now divorced from the hotel) which soared into the sky - totally out of proportion to the surrounding neighborhood and resembling nothing like the pictures and designs which had been displayed to the neighbors.

Only when this happened did the neighbors protest to the Board of Adjustment where the developers and the city planning director came off looking pretty bad.

The fix here is for the city of Durham to initiate a rezoning of this property and the vulnerable southern part of the Trinity Park neighborhood to either an historic district or a neighborhood protection zone. The hospital and its erstwhile parking lot should be taken out of the Downtown district. (Only Frank Duke would have the temerity to suggest that good planning would place an intense and liberal zone immediately next to an historic neighborhood). Frank Duke is the one who talked the neighbors into going along with this bad idea. he was the Planning Director. The city should get the neighborhood out of this by putting things right. The developers had their shot and overplayed their hands. You can't lay this debacle at the feet of the Trinity Park neighbors. Their worst sin was to trust.

I know some TP neighbors fear the historic district zone, but their fears are unwarranted. Just ask neighbors in Trinity Heights, Watts-Hillandale, and Morehead Hill and they will tell you that the historic district zone is the best protection they have ever had. The designation has done nothing but improve the neighborhoods and property values. Given the extreme vulnerability of the southern end of the TP neighborhood, a histroic district there with a carefully drawn preservation plan seems like the obvious solution. If the clock is running out on the landmark hospital building, then there is no time to waste. The city should act now.

Tom Miller

KeepDurhamDifferent!

With all due respect to the local historic districts in OND, WHH, and OWD, they ain't Trinity Park. My model for development is Highland Park in Dallas, or Myers Park in Charlotte, where even "priceless" buildings are occasionally bulldozed so that someone's historic mansion can add an outbuilding (e.g., the gorgeous new greenhouse on Watts), or so that new and unorthodox green architecture can be realised, e.g. the "Chevron" house at Markham and Gregson. Infill development of higher density is good for the environment, and good for property values.

ellen

The best and greenest thing for the neighborhood and environment is historic preservation, properly done. Keep old buildings out of the landfill!

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