Pause for new North Durham high school -- assuming the BOCC approves the land buy
DPS school turnaround plan gets positive reviews at the halfway point

Downtown BID could improve, transfer some muni services -- will it be a fit for Durham?

Last week's announcement by Downtown Durham Inc. that they would seek the approval of local governmental leaders to create a Business Improvement District (BID) in the downtown area is the culmination of several years' worth of discussion about whether the special tax district could be the right solution to improve the frequency and quality of services in an increasingly visible downtown core.

The idea of a BID -- found in more than 90% of larger cities nationally, and more than fifty NC cities including Raleigh and Greensboro (with Chapel Hill in the wings) -- is to levy a surcharge on taxable properties and to have the extra funds raised dedicated to additional services, from waste cleanup to sidewalk ambassadors, that serve as a common good for all of downtown.

In Durham's case, the proposed BID would bring in just short of $400,000 per year, and would be met by a requested increase of $250,000 in funding from the City over the combined $202,000 in economic development dollars that City/County officials provide annually. That extra quarter-million dollars would be in exchange for Downtown Durham Inc. absorbing, funding and overseeing a number of services that are currently provided by the local government.

In that way, the BID also would be an interesting model in a city where politics are participatory, and often a contact sport: the assumption by a private organization, under time-limited contract, of some public functions.

In an interview last week, DDI director Bill Kalkhof, his staff, and downtown resident and BID booster Alice Sharpe emphasized that the need for a special tax district is real, and the best way to grow services and improve their quality.

"Local governments simply are lacking for resources, and they are doing the best they can," Kalkhof said. "We look out on the street and say, what's being provided now simply's not good enough, and we have heard that for years from people."

BID funding would be used to bring in a third-party contractor, SGI, that operates business improvement district services in a number of districts nationwide. Their street teams comprised of staff walking the downtown on foot would serve as ambassadors for visitors, handing out maps and giving directions to facilities, restaurants and the like. 

They'd also provide a "clean and safe" service model, with the presence of these workers downtown would replace a number of existing City activities in downtown, including:

  • Litter removal from sidewalks, curbs, and storefronts, and mechanical vacuuming of litter;
  • Emptying trash receptacles inside the loop
  • Weed removal and maintenance of landscaped beds
  • Initial response to Durham One-Call reported issues
  • Removing graffiti, old handbills and the like

SGI staff would also perform new services, from removing gum spots and snow/ice from sidewalks to straightening and wiping clean fixtures like benches and newspaper boxes. They'd also serve as extra eyes and ears for public safety, radioing in problems if they see them.

The so-called downtown "ambassadors" would use internet-enabled cell phones to receive new work orders of problems and projects from SGI managers, and would use digital wands to "check in" at points on their routes, improving accountability, said DDI's Melissa Muir.

Staff would have feet on the street in different districts downtown from 7am through 3:30pm, with another crew picking up coverage until 10pm in the busiest city center and W. Main St. corridor.

Additionally, BID money would be used to improve the number and quality of public events downtown, with DDI proposing to take over programming of spaces like the CCB Plaza. Kalkhof drew comparisons to Asheville's thriving downtown public scene, adding that the WNC city gains energy by having events going on simultaneously in different locations -- something that could happen at areas like the city center, American Tobacco and Brightleaf Square.

Kalkhof said DDI today receives a significant number of calls from downtown stakeholders and the public about appearance problems, but has no direct mechanism to implement solutions to the problem.

In a BID model, DDI staff, their board, and advisory committees would essentially provide management oversight of SGI's work and, in Kalkhof's opinion, could be more successful at improving results with a targeted focus just on downtown.

Kalkhof used the example of municipal crews who provide every-morning cleanup services in the downtown area. Currently staff spend about 3,000 hours a year providing such services in downtown; in the BID model, that work would increase to 13,000 hours a year of work.

In many ways, the idea of a BID emerges in communities because cities' downtowns are competing with single-owner areas like shopping malls or office parks where private property owners have more control over ensuring the provision of such services.

To DDI and supporters of a BID, the district would create that level of services with downtown paying more in order to get an augmented level of service.

Downtown residents and property owners who support the bid "are saying we're going to tax ourselves, use this money to improve the economic development, the safe and clean aspects," Alice Sharpe said. "People in a lot of other neighborhoods will get the benefit of what's happening with this BID, but they're not having to pay a dime for it. We're not asking them to, they just need to come on downtown and enjoy themselves."

The BID would cover an area from Main St. near Buchanan Blvd. to Golden Belt, and from roughly the freeway north through the Central Park district and emerging commercial area. Residential properties on the periphery of downtown were excised in every way possible while keeping a contiguous district, Kalkhof said.

Property owners inside the BID area would pay an additional seven cents a year on each $100 of valuation of real and personal property.

Unlike the rest of their taxes, which flow from the County's tax office to city and county coffers, the dollars from this seven cent levy would be spent by DDI, under the guidance of new committees and a pared-down board of directors.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But how would a BID be governed?

DDI would have discretion over the outlays of funds, though Kalkhof stressed that the spending would be governed in part by a contract to be signed with the City spelling out what services would be provided by the district -- and providing a sunset period at which time those services would revert and the tax district ended, barring an extension.

The initial proposed BID district length would be three years, Kalkhof told BCR. Sharpe noted this was the third time that a BID has been broached by DDI's board.

A smaller DDI board would oversee DDI staff activities and the funds expended on services, with the help of two advisory boards. One board would be comprised of at least two property owners or residents from each of the seven areas SGI's workers would serve; the second would consist of today's DDI ex-officio board members from local governments, the police, the Durham Chamber and other groups. DDI's board itself would be newly comprised of real and personal property owners, residents, and representatives from the County and City.

While DDI is proposing a revised governance model to accompany a new financial model that sees it receiving dedicated funding from a local-area tax, the BID as proposed would still create a district in the Bull City where some public services are operated under the aegis of a non-elected board, albeit one with a specific contract for services with the city.

But Sharpe -- who along with downtown leaders like Scott Harmon and American Tobacco's Michael Goodmon is one of the ambassadors helping to promote the idea of a BID -- argued that DDI isn't an organization separate or independent of downtown interests, but one which had worked to understand the concerns of residents and property owners. And, she argued, the presence of a local tax district to specifically meet needs that aren't filled by the public sector is a sign of that responsiveness.

"This is another example of Durham grittiness. We're taxing ourselves," Sharpe said. "It is through Downtown Durham Inc., but that is the vehicle... that is the arm that [downtown residents and property owners] utilize."

And she rejected the idea that residents or property owners might feel like they lacked an outlet for concerns over service efficacy that the City Council might today provide.

Downtowners, Sharpe said, "will continue to be vocal, even after SGI starts. And we want that feedback," adding that the advisory boards are one key mechanism for those.

DDI government affairs coordinator Melissa Norton added that the first "temperature readings" of the idea last week with downtown property and business owners were generally positive as people had a chance to ask questions.

"One of the things that appeals to everybody is that the money has to be spent downtown," DDI's Muir added. "Currently when you are voicing to City Council that you want increased services downtown, you're competing with all of Durham for a limited amount of dollars."

"I hear a lot from people now that there are problems and issues, just day to day things that are frustrating" she added. "Now we're going to be empowered with the resources to be able to address it in our office, or through one phone call to SGI."

"It may actually create a point where people actually being more vocal, because they see that when they complain, things get done," Muir said.



Business Improvement Districts have proven to help downtown economic development all over the country, and since this is a tax voted on by the property owners who will pay it, I think this is fair and a very targeted program. Additionally, the BID can be dissolved after the sunset period if property owners don't like it.

DDI has been incredibly effective in sparking economic development downtown over the past twenty years (and especially during this current recession). If they've been able to do what they do with five employees and a $440k budget, imagine what they could do with a $900k budget.

I'm excited to see what comes of this.

Frank Hyman

If I had to guess, I would say that mine and Bill Kalkhof's political views don't have a lot of overlap. But in terms of managing DDI and looking out for downtown in a way that widely benefits Durham, I think he's done a good job.

I think a BID tax would be a good thing all around.


Not only do most successful downtown's have BID's but nearly all of them have sunset provisions that almost always result in BID renewal. Downtown's have different needs. Allowing the owners of downtown property to pay extra to have those needs addressed makes good sense. Congrats to DDI for providing this leadership.

Doug Roach

A BID might go a long way toward encouraging future investment downtown for such projects as Parrish Street development and the Woolworth property. There's a lot to be done downtown and there's great potential there. With money sitting idle at financial institutions all over the country it would make sense that developers see this BID as an encouraging and supportive move for such investment by the city/county.


First, I want to see a map fo the exact proposed area. Is this available? Second, I am unclear of exactly where the extra services will be. The area inside the loop already seems to get the most attention. Will these extra fund allow they to clean up other downtown areas outside the loop? I also don't see how much more money they need to clean up things like gum (which I don't see to be a problem downtown). I am interested, but do not feel like I have hear enough information about this one.

Reynolds Maxwell

Wow. I thought I liked this idea. Now that I see the specifics, I LOVE this idea. This is exactly the type of boring, difficult, and yet critical attention to detail that downtown needs to keep its great momentum going. Thank you to DDI for driving this process forward, and thanks to Kevin and BCR as usual for the excellent coverage.

Cal Coetzee

Great idea!

To 'A'.... do you own property downtown? Just asking

...Will these extra fund allow they to clean up other downtown areas outside the loop?...

No it will not, cause it's NOT in downtown. These 'extra fund' btw,... we/I / property owners/ are paying for. If you don't own property downtown, you don't pay for it.

.... I also don't see how much more money they need to clean up things like gum (which I don't see to be a problem downtown).....

Gum is NOT the only thing that will be cleaned up (read the article again). Gum btw is a BIG problem downtown. It's soooooo gross.

....I am interested, but do not feel like I have hear enough information about this one....

Kinna clear to moi,... what more u wanna know?

Matthew Coppedge, DDI

There is a map of the proposed BID boundaries on our website:

This pdf also has more in depth information about the program and answers to most of your questions.

DDI will be mailing out an informational brochure and an invitation to 2 Public Information Sessions to all property owners, business owners and residents in the proposed BID boundary in the next couple of weeks. A full website with detailed info on the program will also launch in early March.

Will these extra funds allow them to clean up other downtown areas outside the loop?
--Yes, the proposed plan does have the Clean & Green Ambassadors working throughout downtown, not just inside the loop.

I also don't see how much more money they need to clean up things like gum (which I don't see to be a problem downtown).
--We have not power washed or cleaned the gum off of the sidewalks in downtown since the new streetscape was completed in 2008. Ambassadors would not only provide new and enhanced clean and green services (see website), they would also act as ambassadors to help improve the visitor experience in downtown and improve the quality of life for all in downtown.

Please look over the linked .pdf for a more in depth look at the services provided.

I am interested, but do not feel like I have heard enough information about this one.
--Please join us for a Public Information Session and Q&A on Wed., March 9th and/or Wed. March 16th @ 6pm at Rigsbee Hall (208 Rigsbee Avenue) to learn all about the Proposed BID.

Map & Directions to Rigsbee Hall:

And you can always call Downtown Durham, Inc at (919)682-2800 if you have questions or need additional information.

Cal Coetzee

This is 'B' here... thanks Matt....

Cynical Resident

So does this mean we don't have to clean up all the broken glass on the curbs and sidewalks from all the car break-ins anymore? SWEET!

Matt Drew

"Downtown residents and property owners who support the bid "are saying we're going to tax ourselves, use this money to improve the economic development, the safe and clean aspects," Alice Sharpe said."

Unfortunately, that statement is not entirely accurate. The downtown residents and property owners who support the BID want to tax all the property owners in the district, regardless of whether they support the BID or not. Why not simply make this voluntary, collect the funds as donations, and provide the services? There's no need for a tax or a city contract for any of this. Is the city going to complain about or arrest the SGI employees as they are picking up trash and helping people out around downtown? If this is truly a good idea for downtown, then it should pay for itself without the need for more taxes - as DDI is advertising that it will.

What this looks like to me is that DDI could not put together the voluntary donations they needed from downtown property owners and stakeholders, so they are moving from the carrot to the stick. That's a significant warning sign that this plan might not be as beneficial as DDI is making it out to be.

downtown resident

Speaking as a homeowner in the area identified on the DDI map, this is also the first anyone in my complex has heard of this initiative. So I'm surprised to hear that "downtown residents and property owners...are saying 'we're going to tax ourselves.'"

DDI has never acted as if residents' interests are something they are interested in representing, as demonstrated by the fact that they have never even spoken to our complex--which has collectively invested several million dollars in downtown. The only time we have ever had contact with them was when neighboring business owners brought them in to advocate against us in a minor zoning dispute. As far as I can tell they are a business lobby, and getting taxed by them sounds to me a lot like taxation without representation.

Susanne H.

As a residential property owner downtown, I want to express that I am extremely underwhelmed by this plan. I'm not opposed in principal to paying more taxes to improve the downtown area. I'd love to support a tax measure that did something like: (1) presented a concrete plan for funding public events downtown that would be run by and would serve city residents, (2) provided grants for minorities and women who'd like to open small businesses to attract diverse populations to the area, or (3) paid for actual police work to solve and prosecute perpetrators of crimes that occur downtown, rather than hoping vaguely that ambassadors patrolling the streets with maps were going to be a meaningful deterrent to crime. To my ears, this sounds like the city wants to make downtown as clean and friendly as Southpointe Mall and wants me to pay for it. I can imagine how that kind of environment might be attractive to some business-owners, but it sounds repellent to me, which is why I live downtown, instead of adjacent to the Mall. I don't see why residential property owners should be taxed to support an initiative that is the kind of initiative that sounds good in campaign speeches and PR campaigns, but which in reality will fund expensive technology toward the ends of the decidedly low tech goals of cleaning sidewalks and benches and distributing maps and directions.

I love Durham. I will pay money to make it a better place. The goals described by this plan do not match my idea of what will improve the city.


How much of the money collected will go to DDI administration of this program, and how much will actually be put towards picking up trash? I applaud what DDI has done for Durham, but I don't support expanding a quasi-governmental bureacracy to solve a problem that would be better addressed by the private sector and by enforcement of existing laws.

I make sure my own property and the surrounding rights-of-way stay clear of trash and weeds because it's in my best interests to do so, and because I view it as an obligation that comes with owning property. I expect the same of my neighbors. Why is this different downtown?

Shouldn't the City budget already include picking up trash and maintaining City-owned properties and public rights-of-way, including those inside the loop - or did it come as a huge surprise to the administration and DDI that all the people we've encouraged to come downtown would generate trash, cigarette butts, and chewing gum?

Why did we invest in an elaborate system of districts and wayfinding signage if we still need people downtown "handing out maps"? Maps of what? How is this of any value to someone who lives downtown or practices law there, for example.

Requiring owners to maintain their own properties might be a good place to start. If they fail to do so, send NIS crews out to clean up and put a lien on the property. If a handful of restaurants and retail businesses want to pay for people to hand out maps and buff the sidewalks in front of their buildings, let them form a voluntary organization and kick in their own money to do it.

Will Wilson

These downtown plans do nothing to address the phenomenal downtown environmental issues. The unshaded impervious surface causes a 10F urban heat island, big enough to change lightning strikes in the surrounding area. Those urban impervious surfaces and heat problems heat up streams, erode streams, flush pollutants, cause air quality problems, and really decrease the quality of life in the downtown core. There is no place in the plans concerning these issues. Instead, the plans worry about litter.

Further, these problems are greatest right where the poorest of our citizens live, and across the nation, they go hand-in-hand with health problems. No where in the DDI plans I've seen are these socioeconomic and environmental issues addressed. It seems that those involved don't want to leave a single square yard of buildable space unbuilt: We'll end up with 99% impervious surfaces downtown, and no one will want to spend any time outside spending money at outside cafes. We could have a wonderful city with beautiful outside commercial spaces -- think Portland, for example -- but if we want the city to go that direction, we'll have to work hard to get it.

I've been a long-time member of Durham's Open Space and Trails commission, and I don't speak for any other members, but we've been pushing development of an Urban Open Space plan to address the issues. Right now it looks like the DDI and DIB folks are in charge, and I fear trees and nicely vegetated urban open spaces won't be in the picture.


Downtown Raleigh's BID has been pretty productive from what I've seen, and the Downtown Alliance's work is seen as quite popular. In fact, other urban clusters in Raleigh have been working on getting BIDs too...Hillsborough Street being the main one to come to mind. Seems like an idea that's gotten results and is gaining in popularity. I hope DDI can use their BID to great results in Durham as well!


Yes I do own property downtown.
Yes some areas outside of the actual loop are downtown. You can’t magically appear in the loop, so visitors must also go through these other blighted areas of downtown to get there.
I used gum as an example that underwhelmed me, sorry if this offended you. I would rather see the same upkeep inside the loop expanded to the rest of downtown before I saw this enormous gum problem better focused on.
I am not even going to address your last comment



You might want to check out a feature in Downtown known as Durham Central Park. At the level of tax imposed under this plan, only certain issues are going to be addressed. The impervious surfaces issues you raise are addressed in other ways by public policy. This 7 cents can't be all things to all people.

I do, however, support the concerns that you raise. The concerns this money will address are important to the folks who are offering to pay the tax.

In truth, Durham has geographically one of the smallest Downtowns of any of the cities in North Carolina. Making it safe and clean and promoting its growth is a good thing for the rest of Durham. Growth here is far more supportive of your objective than the suburban sprawl that would likely ensue without a vibrant Downtown.

Will Wilson

Chuck: Of course I know DCP, but it doesn't solve the problems from 300 acres of impervious surfaces. You could have 10 DCPs, and it wouldn't solve the air and environmental health problems suffered by low income residents. We can have a vibrant downtown with lots of jobs, jobs, jobs, and solve these problems at the same time. But it means rules asking businesses to devote, say, 20% of their area to trees and vegetation. That's the solution we need.



I'm not an expert at these things, but downtown, particularly the central business district, is pretty land locked. The footprints for these structures are already there. I don't see how you accomplish your goal in this environment. Part of the virtue of dense development though is that it allows these vibrant centers to be the focal point of development. Then other areas can be less densely developed and provide even higher percentages of open area. Structured parking downtown is ecologically superior to surface parking in strip malls.

We can discuss these ideas and propose solutions but none of that will have anything to do with the issue of the day, the BID. Just two separate sets of issues. Both important though.

Will Wilson

We need creative solutions to these heat, air, and stormwater problems, and redevelopment rules setting aside urban open space to do so. They need not interfere with mass transit -- look at Portland. That's why we need a plan, and businesses need to step up and devote open space.

Frank Hyman

Couple of things occur to me after reading comments and the DDI link above:

a) Will the funding for "special events" get Centerfest out of the dreadful parking lot and back onto the streets of downtown?

b) Folks who are concerned about "taxation without representation" could take that up with the city council who will be the ones to vote this up or down.

c) Will's comment about the urban heat island effect and lack of greenspace is worth taking another look. Esp. can the BID fund promotion of the value of green roofs downtown? For a building owner, a green roof pays for itself in utility savings alone. They also cool the area, provide potential greenspace and slow down stormwater very cost-effectively. Chicago is a leader on this front--maybe BID money could be used for "an educational road trip" to make property owners aware of what they are missing out on.

d) Regarding this little chuckler: "Why not simply make this voluntary, collect the funds as donations, and provide the services? " It reminds me of a great cartoon in the New Yorker recently: guy's house is on fire, but he smiles and says to the firefighters, "No thanks. I"m a libertarian." :-)

e) For someone with a condo worth about $250,000 or so, they would pay less then $150 a year for the additional downtown cleanup, security, events, etc. Is it worth the extra $13 a month for that?

f) My guess? The public hearings will be must-see TV. And the hearings and the show-n-tell presentations in March will be a chance to pull this proposal into covering anything that DDI folks haven't addressed adequately. Will be interesting.


Will: You want us to follow Portland's example?? You may want to check out the facts instead of the propaganda. Note the same people who crave open space downtown tend to oppose multistory parking decks and high-rise development, which in turn, conflicts with making public transit cost-effective and practical. Check out the link below.

I suppose you'll be fighting Greenfire and American Tobacco from building anything more on THEIR property just so you can save a few grassy patches downtown. I'm also getting a bit tired blasting holes in your theories of how dense development is contributing to pollution as opposed to urban sprawl, which most every other environmentalist and planner would disagree with you. You don't seem to have a coherent philosophy of how to develop anything that anyone would want in practical terms, so I'll just mark you down as another self-centered "no-growther" who benefits from the status quo.

As for the BID, I'm sorry that the taxpayers in Raleigh and Greensboro fell for this. Just more of the same tax and spend policy that keeps too many non-critical government employees on the job. It really is the responsibility of downtown property owners to take care of their surroundings, and the city's to go out and fine them when they don't. That makes too much sense for most of us, as the problem takes care of itself when those who do the right thing voluntarily are rewarded and those who do not pay up.

downtown resident

I think Susanne hit the nail on the head. They are proposing a *Business* Improvement District, and the activities are clearly geared to things that serve the interests of *businesses*. So why are residents expected to contribute?

A neighbor who works in urban development reports that every other example of a BID he has heard of limits its taxation to a small area (not the whole downtown) and only to business owners.

If anyone had bothered to ask us what we wanted, downtown residents like Susanne and I would probably agree that we want a vibrant cultural scene. I fear that the BID will be more interested in restricting downtown to the type of people it considers "valuable customers," and harassing poor people, artists, etc., for trying to use public space.

@Frank: Don't worry, I do plan to bring this up with our elected representatives. My concern, and motivation for use of the term "taxation without representation," is that IF it were to pass, this tax would be spent by, not government employees who are publicly accountable, but a private company that is under contract and can do what it wants--including listening to a small cabal of business owners rather than all of those who want to see downtown succeed.


@Frank: I hope DDI will get DAC committed to freeing Centerfest from the parking lot. I haven't seen anyone at Centerfest in years who didn't express longing to bring it back to the streets.

Will Wilson

Yes, the urban open space issue extends well beyond the BID area. The argument that we can't deal with these problems downtown where buildings already sit, IMHO, reflects the same arguments that we can't protect our undeveloped watersheds -- jobs, jobs, jobs. Sustainability can be achieved.

Frank: I've gone back and forth on green roofs. Back because they're expensive to build and maintain, but recently forth. Unpublished work shows that the heat content of the urban heat island essentially equals the cooling from transpiration by the displaced trees. I'm guessing roofs represent a large-ish fraction of downtown impervious surface, and the transpiration of rooftop grass watered by stormwater stored in cisterns helps solve many problems. Streets still need a solution.

There are merits to building higher downtown rather than destroying our region's watersheds; and when rebuilding downtown with an UOS plan in place we can accommodate street level vegetation.


I have had mostly positive experiences from a user standpoint in other BID's. When I lived in Cleveland, the district's bike security was very knowledgeable about the downtown area and handed me a map that assisted me with my walk through downtown.
I've had similar experiences in Atlanta and other cities.

I really believe the ambassador activities can be handled by the on-street staff (security and maintenance) and volunteers. I participated in the inaugural Ambassador group several years ago and it was a lot of fun. The majority of the people that I met LOVED that we were there and requested maps and information about downtown and events.

IMO the BID will benefit residents just as much as businesses. Its not us vs. them...if the businesses leave there are vacant streets and place to eat...all of the reasons that you chose to move downtown are suddenly eroded. Thankfully...even a clean (and safer) downtown will NEVER be Southpointe.

The more people (and uniformed people) that are on streets...the safer you are and your property. Yes...the maintenance staff serve as a safety mechanism. They are probably better than cops because my senses are heightened when I see a bunch of cops in an area. I think "This MUST be a dangerous area." I actually let my guard down a little with other staff providing the extra eyes and ears.

Just my thoughts on the issue...

Frank Hyman

One other thing I like about the proposal: even tho the DDI staff wouldn't be city employees, they would be paid at least as much as the city's Living Wage requires and would have full health and other bennies.

It also occurred to me that if this were being proposed in any other part of Durham, that the local neighborhood association would be involved. I know there is a PAC 5 for downtown, but does it serve as a neighborhood association for residents? Or is there a formal neighborhood association that can represent downtown residents yet?

downtown resident

@Frank--Good question. The PAC 5 area doesn't map onto the area proposed for the BID--many of our residences are assigned to PACs in other traditionally residential areas of town, a leftover from when the areas we've now populated were neither "downtown" nor "residential" because they were deserted. This is one of the reasons why many of us feel unrepresented in this debate.

@Khalid--I agree that businesses have legitimate interests, and that we all benefit from them being downtown. I just also believe that businesses, and the city, benefit from us as well. If downtown residents left, there would be vacant buildings, fewer people on the streets, and fewer people to frequent downtown businesses--the same problems there would be if the businesses left! (In fact, we actually didn't pick our neighborhood for the restaurants. There were no restaurants in our part of downtown when we moved there--they weren't interested in coming until the area was less deserted.)

Changing the priorities of the BID to *also* be responsive to our needs, and our vision for downtown, doesn't strike me as an "us vs. them" request. It strikes me as democratic, and a way to bring balance to downtown priority-setting. I'd like us to all be recognized, but the current proposal only recognizes business needs.

Erik Landfried

Ah yes, linking to an article by Randy O'Toole (side note: I'm glad he kept his porn name from the 70s). Every Libertarian's favorite tool (o'toole?) to refute the benefits of rail transit and smart growth planning. The next peer-reviewed piece of "research" Randal O'Toole does will be the first and he never offers alternative solutions.

My favorite argument he and others of his ilk make is that congestion continues to grow despite a heavy investment in transit. That's probably true - think about the best transit cities in the US. No shortage of traffic congestion in those places. But he never says what would happen if that same investment had been in roads instead. Think congestion would be better then? Of course not - think of all the money the state has put into I-40 over the past 20 years, then hang out at the Harrison Ave interchange on 5pm on a Friday afternoon and let me know how that's working.

Is Portland perfect? No - what city is? Will Durham ever be Portland? No - different size, different geography, different history. But if you've been to Portland and don't think Durham has anything to learn from that city, I'm not sure we're referring to the same place.


This whole idea presupposes that the property owners can afford an extra tax. With much of downtown vacant, or underutilized at best, it seems like an extra tax would be counter-productive. The only thing driving what little business development there is is low rent. Higher rents in an already badly blighted urban center isn't going to help, because there's no other reason to relocate to downtown Durham.

The collective fantasy of a thriving bohemian center has to be seen for what it is: a fantasy. Reality demands that rent remains low in order to encourage business growth.

Kevin Davis

@Joe -- i think there was a time what you are saying about blight would hold true, but not sure rents are as depressed as you think. City center, maybe, but I doubt it -- given that American Tobacco has in recent years commanded one of the highest per sq ft rent rates in the whole Triangle with one of the lowest vacancy rates.

Compare to RTP, which has plenty of vacant space, lower rent rates, and I suspect tenants must pay the equivalent of CAM in some ways to pay for park amenities. Not too different from the BID.

I can see good arguments for as well as against a BID, mind you. I just am not sure that low rents are the reason.

Scott Harmon

@downtown resident

Comparing the proposed area of the BID with the current map of PAC5 (available at it appears to me that the entire BID area is completely within PAC5.

PAC5 hosted a presentation of the BID this past Thursday. The citizen turnout was one of the largest the PAC has seen. No City employees voted on this issue, and the vote was unanimous in favor of the BID.

I also know that the BID boundary was specifically adjusted to not include any single family neighborhoods, although there are a half dozen single family homes in the Central Park area that are within the boundary, but these are completely surrounded by commercial property. There are no identifiable "residential neighborhoods" that are within the BID boundary.

Every stakeholder within the proposed boundary stands to benefit, rather directly, from the services, cultural events, and marketing of downtown as a whole. I am also a resident within the BID and completely support this proposal. To suggest that residents shouldn't contribute because it won't really affect them is to ignore the delightful wonder of mixed-use, urban environments, and the rich interplay of home, culture, commerce, and play that can be found in downtown.

downtown resident


Thanks very much for this information, and for the link to the PAC 5 map. Our complex was (mistakenly, it seems) informed by our management company that we are represented by PAC 2 instead (and the PAC 2 map is much less clear than PAC 5's, so that appeared correct). I have now signed up for the PAC 5 listserv. I am sad that I didn't find this out prior to Thursday's meeting.

However, on your other point I believe you misunderstand me. I do not believe that the BID "won't affect residents." To the contrary, I believe it will have enormous repercussions for everyone who works in, lives in, or uses downtown.

***My concern, to be COMPLETELY clear, is that the BID will answer to DDI, and that DDI has a history of acting as a representative of downtown businesses, not as a representative of all downtown stakeholders. I don't want to see downtown become corporatized and unresponsive to the many people whose hopes for downtown differ from a purely profit-driven vision.***

I have no problem paying taxes to a responsive government. I have an enormous problem with an unaccountable private entity taking over primary control of vast areas of public space--using my money or not. I want to see guarantees that the BID will be accountable and responsive.

Scott Harmon

@downtown resident

Hope you will attend the March 2nd info session for downtown residents. Your HOA should be receiving an invite for this today or tomorrow.

The state laws that govern BID's require that the district be answerable to the taxpayers within the district.

One of the important aspects of the proposal is that there will be a new Board governing DDI, made up of a cross section of different types of stakeholders, in order to make sure that there is diverse governance of DDI once it evolves into a bid-funded entity. The details of this are still being worked out, but your point is important. I think (and hope) you will find that this issue is being directly addressed in the details of the proposal.

downtown resident

Thanks, Scott, for the clarification on the state laws and the proposal. I look forward to learning more on March 2nd!


On a related note, the City County Planning Dept. is hosting an open house info session on the Durham Downtown Open Space Plan (more about that here: )
Takes place on March 9th in the large N.I.S. Conference Room, 3rd floor, Golden Belt (insert Bull City Connector plug). 2:00 - 3:30 or 5:00 - 7:30
See ya there.

Frank Hyman

Great site about Green Roofs:


Awful news (and yes I own property downtown). Just another case of the rich screwing those trying to scrape by -- this BIDness district should expect to see growth on the other side of the boundary, like on City Line Ave. in Philly.

Apt dwellers act as if they're surprised they weren't consulted. C'mon, really?

The comments to this entry are closed.