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December 2010

City/County employees select MLK Jr. Day speaker, seemingly dodging 2010's selection controversy?

Local papers are running the press release that came out from the county government yesterday announcing that Dr. David C. Forbes, Sr. of Raleigh's Christian Faith Baptist Church has been chosen as this year's speaker for the city and county governments' joint commemoration of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

Forbes When we at BCR heard of the selection, our mind raced to winter 2010, when the selection of Pastor J.D. Greear from the Summit Church here in Durham raised the ire of Durham native and national-stage LGBT blogger Pam Spaulding, who took the event committee and local governments to task for selecting Greear, whose opposition to gay marriage, Spaulding argued, was antithetical to the cause of civil rights being celebrated through the King holiday.

(Local officials would go on to defend the choice, saying it wasn't intended as a referendum on the speaker's beliefs, but as the choice of a member of the community who could speak to Dr. King's ideals.)

In this year's selection, there's again a Baptist preacher coming to present from the pulpit. But unlike Greear, whose Summit mega-church is affiliated with the socially conservative Southern Baptist denomination, Forbes hails from a church affiliated with the more politically-progressive American Baptists, a group that includes Watts Street Baptist and other churches that have been more progressive on civil rights and social justice issues than their better-known brethren in faith.

Forbes himself has also sat on the NC Council of Churches board, an affiliation of progressive churches in the news recently for electing the first openly-gay president in the state council history, or in the history of such councils in the South, for that matter.

Is Forbes' selection a response to the outcry of last year? Well, that would be pure speculation -- and one that vastly understates Rev. Forbes' accomplishments.

Forbes holds numerous honorary degrees in addition to his Doctor of Ministry degree, and has long been active in civil rights causes, serving in the 1960s as the state representative to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, for instance.

And his CV lists broad service within ecumenical boards and organizations as well as with organizations like Shaw University (including trusteeship), the United Way, the state council of PTAs, and Habitat for Humanity.

This year's event is scheduled for Wed., Jan. 12 at noon at First Presbyterian downtown.

Chesterfield rehab takes big step forward with bond sales complete; April '11 construction start planned

It's two days before the end of the year deadline for financing the rehabilitation plans for downtown Durham's Chesterfield building -- and, it appears, Josh Parker and his team have pulled off the real estate equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

Chesterfield-logo A press release from Parker's team this evening reveals that their bond advisors have completed the sale of $63 million in stimulus-funded recovery zone bonds, the linchpin of a $90 million rehab of the structure into more than 150 apartments along with ground-floor retail and office space.

It's a stunning end to a few short months' work by Parker, the twentysomething Durham native and former member of the West Village development team, who's teamed up with one of the financing partners behind the original project effort to gain control, and now financing, against what some observers thought were pretty long odds a few months ago.

But instead -- after rumored interest from developers like Scientific Properties, and after public saber-rattling by original but beleaguered WV developer Christian Laettner -- the announcement of bond funding two days before the crucial federal deadline for stim-bond sales addresses the final hurdle standing in Parker's way.

Ladies and gents, it's time to deal in a hand for Mr. Parker at the downtown development table.


Continue reading "Chesterfield rehab takes big step forward with bond sales complete; April '11 construction start planned" »

CityFabric offering t-shirts showcasing Durham, other city centers

Durham-cityfabric Map obsessions are nothing new; yours truly has a whole passel of maps in shipping tubes whose framing and hanging have long been delayed in the name of domestic tranquility, while a regular BCR reader and commenter loves his hometown of Buffalo so much that he's had it tattooed on his arm.

There's now a less-permanent way to showcase your civic interest -- t-shirts that have city centers right on 'em.

So sez the N&O, which notes that a couple of NCSU design school students have opened an online business called CityFabrics that provides urban maps -- or more specifically, depictions of buildings and infrastructure -- to highlight the city centers of a number of urbs, including the Bull City (seen at right).

As co-founder Matt Tomasulo tells the N&O in a story published yesterday:


"When you look at the Durham shirt, N.C. 147 runs right through downtown," Tomasulo says. "And all the historic neighborhoods are gridded, whereas the ones below N.C. 147 are sparser and more spread out. It's these subtle touch points that show how cities change, and help people create a dialogue about their town."

For a fuller explanation on Durham's street grids, be sure to check out Michael Bacon's blog posts on the subject at The Bull in Full -- a much-missed place in the local blogosphere, but the archives are still there.

If you're so inclined, you can pick up Durham t's or those for cities from Raleigh to Richmond to Cambridge, Mass. from the CityFabrics web site


BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for December 28, 2010

It was nice to get back in one piece from Nashville late Sunday, on a day when the east coast's snow event made travel a little difficult, to say the least. Well-earned kudos to the road crews around here; we were amazed by how good the conditions were on interstates and major thoroughfares alike around twilight on Sunday -- especially compared to Nashville, which got much less snow but whose DOT seemed wholly unprepared for even that, given the number of accident scenes we passed on the way to the airport.

The only raw spot Mrs. BCR and I came across was in RTP, some of whose interior roads looked more like kid-worn sledding paths than actual conveyances for automobiles.

It's been a largely slow last week in news, but there are a few stories worth watching:

Convention Center Debate Continues: The last few weeks have seen some lobbying in the public sphere by Shaner Hotels over their deal to run the Durham Convention Center, from an op-ed in the Herald-Sun and the Durham Magazine blog to missives on local listservs. But city and county officials seem poised to deny Shaner -- which operates the downtown Marriott as well as the 80s-vintage convention space -- a renewal of the contract, looking instead to the Comcast subsidiary (Global Spectrum) that operates pro sports stadiums and convention centers around the country. Global Spectrum estimates a $700k annual subsidy from local governments for the loss-leader facility, vs. a $1 million guaranteed subsidy to Shaner. The H-S' Ray Gronberg recounts the politics of the matter, including a to-be-expected lobbying effort by Shaner to keep the contract -- lobbying that has included, weirdly, Durham GM Dick Brezinski smacking Global Spectrum for their colorful web site. (Herald-Sun)

LabourLove Shifts: LabourLove's blog last week noted a change in the Golden Belt art gallery's operating model given the ongoing recession, which has left them operating in the red nine-tenths of the months they've been opened, the Herald-Sun's Monica Chen notes. Artists will now submit applications to be showcased in the space, with the gallery renting out shelf space and taking a ten percent cut on sales -- versus the older, traditional model in which the gallery would front all the marketing costs around Third Fridays and other events and hope to recoup through sales. Seems to make sense, especially since the per-sale cut is small, and the change allows LabourLove to address some of their fixed costs. (Herald-Sun)

6am Start for BCC: Starting on Monday, the Bull City Connector expands its hours of operation, with westbound service at Golden Belt kicking off at 6:22am with a 6:31am stop at Durham Station. The N&O notes commuters are the target market for the change -- and given that 7am is a logical shift change time around places like the Duke and VA hospitals, this makes a lot of sense. (N&O)

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for December 22, 2010

One 751 Hearing Paused, Another On Track: City officials made it clear at Tuesday's work session that they don't want to entertain a Jan. 3 hearing date for a utility extension proposal from developers proposing the massive 751 South project near Jordan Lake until a municipal cost-benefit analysis of the deal and of annexation is ready, something not expected until about that date. Some Council members -- including Diane Catotti and, more notably, Cora Cole-McFadden, for whom less of an opinion on 751 South has been known -- expressed hesitation over tackling the issue at all pending the completion of a pending lawsuit over the County's handling of the case, as a City vote could trump the county matter entirely. It's unclear whether that lawsuit-first view will prevail, or whether the Council will take action on the key votes once the analysis is in. One item, a proposal to move the urban growth area boundary to encompass the site, is still on the Jan. 3 agenda; activists seem poised to work to turn out crowds for that post-New Year hearing. Your best reading on the case is in the Herald-Sun and the Indy this morning.

GSK ATC Space for HTC: The N&O and Herald-Sun confirm that hot smartphone manufacturer HTC is choosing GlaxoSmithKline's old space at the American Tobacco Campus' Crowe Bldg. for its new digs; GSK has been slowing moving out of the space as it looks to consolidate its Triangle operations and give up more than 1m sq. ft. of space. The office will open in early winter and will focus on R&D and strategy. (Herald-Sun, N&O)

Red Hat Decision Looms: Meanwhile, Linux software and services firm Red Hat -- which just announced strong quarterly results and is approaching $1b in annual revenue run rate -- expects to decide on space expansion and new HQ plans within roughly a month's time, sez the N&O. American Tobacco is in the running for the space; campus officials have been mum on the exact siting of any headquarter building, though according to the rumor mill around town, let's just say their plans might turn the seminal lyrical line of a popular Joni Mitchell song on its head. (N&O)

Coming to our Census: NC boomed in the last decade at a percentage rate faster than anywhere else in the southeast, and fifth overall, notes the N&O -- though the growth wasn't enough to pick up another Congressional seat. Which, the Herald-Sun points out through an AP wire-run story, may create opportunities for intrigue during redistricting; the article notes that two Triangle representatives, Brad Miller and David Price, might see a munging of their districts to push one incumbent out, with Miller's Triad-Triangle "stretch" district likely to become more compact. (Herald-Sun, N&O)

Share Your Christmas Needs Help: WRAL points out the challenges facing the County's Share Your Christmas program to put gifts under the tree in needy families. A Durham church had promised to help out as recessionary times led to booming demand for assistance -- only to see the unnamed church's aid fall through for as many as 300 families days before a scheduled gift distribution. If you can help, visit the Facebook page of the Durham County DSS program. (WRAL)

Breaking: HTC confirms lease of space in downtown Durham

More analysis later, but the hemming and hawing seems to be over, and Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC has made it official -- it's coming to downtown Durham. From the press release:

HTC Corporation, a leading global designer of smartphones, today announced plans to lease space for a new R&D office in downtown Durham, N.C. During the first quarter of 2011 HTC expects to employ approximately 45 people in its facility, conducting research into multiple areas of wireless technology, with plans to grow further during 2011 and into the future.

"HTC has been successful bringing its unique brand of people-centric innovation to consumers, and with the establishment of this new R&D office, we are taking an important step to extend our leadership position in the wireless industry," said Ron Louks, chief strategy officer for HTC Corporation. "Durham is a perfect place to open our new R&D office because we are able to tap into this deep pool of technical talent that complements HTC's leading-edge R&D efforts going on around the world."

With the opening of its new Durham location, HTC will have three dedicated R&D locations in the United States. Currently, HTC has a location in Seattle focused on creating innovative user experience design, including its branded HTC Sense user experience, and creates world-class industrial designs through its One & Co subsidiary located in San Francisco. Along with these R&D facilities, HTC's Americas headquarters are located in Bellevue, Wash. Altogether, HTC currently employs approximately 250 people in the United States and over 10,000 people worldwide.

Downtown Durham's ReverbNation keeps the beat with social media services for musicians

If you are not a musician, you may not have heard of Durham-based ReverbNation yet by name, but chances are good you’ve been in contact with one of their tools or applications through the online presence of an artist you love.

ReverbNation is a local start-up that’s grown into a significant player within its niche; their online music marketing platform is used by over 950,000 artists, managers, record labels, and venues, and provides solutions to individual artists and the music industry professionals that support them in the areas including web promotion, fan-relationship management, digital distribution, social-media marketing, and e-commerce.

ReverbNation’s market niche lies in developing technologies that integrate the wide array of distribution, marketing, promotion, and social media functions used by the music industry into one comprehensive application — helping musicians grow their revenues, and providing insight into how each marketing input contributes to overall outcomes.

Continue reading "Downtown Durham's ReverbNation keeps the beat with social media services for musicians" »

Falls Lake Rules on road to implementation without letter-induced delay

Bill Holman from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment wrote in yesterday to share that the much-discussed Falls Lake Rules have passed another important milestone: approval by North Carolina's Rules Review Commission this past Friday, Dec. 16.

Of particular note: it was widely expected early in the rulemaking process that the General Assembly would end up getting involved again in the matter, since once the Environmental Management Commission approved the draft rules (which they did in Nov. 2010), it would only take ten letters from, well, anyone to get the rules implementation stalled with further legislative review.

Holman notes the significant work that upstream cities/counties (Durham, Granville, Orange and the like) and downstream governments (notably Raleigh and Wake Co.) did to come up with consensus principles that prioritized Lower Falls clean-up now while giving more time, and more opportunity for scientific review, to the Upper Falls section closest to Durham.

Environmental lobbying groups noted in news releases their disappointment that the rules didn't give Upper Falls the same treatment or timetable as the portion closest to Raleigh's water supply, but they apparently decided they liked the rules well enough to hold off on letter-writing. So too, Holman notes, did pro-development interests.

Of course, all it takes is one legislator in the General Assembly to as much as file a bill contesting the rules for this to end up out of the executive sphere and back into the legislative. 

But if neither homebuilders nor municipal officials nor environmentalists were concerned enough to drop forty-four cents ten times over to a certain Raleigh mailstop, well, who's to think the General Assembly session will be much different?

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for December 20, 2010

Another ADA Departure: A long line of assistant DAs have been exiting the Durham County district attorney's office this year, and that list grew longer after Mitchell Garrell's pending departure after 15 years. John McCann had the story first but without confirmation of the reason for the exit -- something the N&O's J. Andrew Curliss tracks down in today's must-read news story. Tracey Cline noted she had informed Garrell he would not be reappointed come 2011, despite being one of two ADAs linked to the office's toughest cases. The N&O story runs down one of Garrell's recent cases, including Cline's own contradictory testimony in a re-trial of a man jailed on what he claims were bad-acts by the SBI and Durham prosecutors; Cline said she hadn't been involved in the case, only to have documents with her initials appear. Garrell becomes the fifth veteran prosecutor of violent crimes to exit the DA's office this year. (N&O)

751 on 1/3: The Indy gets confirmation from City Councilwoman Diane Catotti that a utility extension vote on the 751 South project is set for Jan. 3; a vote on annexation with translational zoning from the controversial BOCC upzoning would happen at a later date. See our Saturday post here for more background, or the Indy's excellent primer. (Indy Weekly)

Scrutiny on Hiring: The H-S' Ray Gronberg has the latest on a movement seeking to get city/county governments and their private contractors to limit scrutiny of past criminal records to late stages of the application process, and perhaps then only for jobs with significant sensitivity. It's a move meant to open up outlets for ex-offenders, whose sometimes youthful transgressions can open the door to a hard time getting career traction. (Herald-Sun)

"Duke is in Durham, but Hillside is Durham!": So spake school board chair Minnie Forte-Brown at a celebration of Hillside's state football championship, telling the crowd, as the Herald-Sun's Matt Milliken reported, that the Hillside High victory meant more to the community than Duke's national championship. It's a great victory, but really, Ms. Forte-Brown? One would think elected officials with backgrounds in speech and communication (like our school board chair herself is) would have a better innate sense of the problem of the gaffe. (Herald-Sun)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for December 20, 2010" »

Back again? Citizen activist claims 751 utilities extension pending for January 3 agenda

751-south-sp I don't know about you, dear reader, but around Chez BCR there's so much to do that it's hard to even think about the Christmas holiday coming up next weekend, let alone the new year awaiting us in 2011.

Yet public hearings wait for no one, and one Durham citizen activist has started ringing the alarm bell about what she says is a forthcoming hearing for the next step in the controversial 751 South project.

Melissa Rooney, a resident of the unincorporated South Durham subdivision of Fairfield and a longstanding opponent of the proposed 751 South project -- which would bring more than a thousand residential units and hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail and office space to the "south of Southpoint" part of the Bull City -- raised alarm bells on the InterNeighborhood Council listserv earlier today concerning the proposed extension of municipal utility service to the site.

Rooney tells the INC that she's learned that a utility extension agreement is supposedly set to be heard by City Council on Jan. 3. (We can't validate this here at BCR, as the agendas aren't posted that far out.)

Continue reading "Back again? Citizen activist claims 751 utilities extension pending for January 3 agenda" »