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March 2011

Glucose-monitoring glove wins kudos at Durham entrepreneurial event

An innovative glove beat out grunts and coupons Thursday afternoon in a showdown of entrepreneurs from the Triangle’s three biggest universities. 

Senior Kyle Foti of N.C. State earned a lunch with community business leaders for his winning presentation at the Tobacco Road Challenge, part of a daylong event pitched at local entrepreneurs. Foti’s business, Diagnostic Apparel, is working on a prototype that would provide continuous monitoring of blood sugar in diabetic children. The device, which he believes can be assembled for less than $500, would replace an uncomfortable ritual in which parents must wake their children thrice nightly and prick their fingers to check glucose levels. 

Foti’s solution seemed to resonate with a panel of established entrepreneurs that questioned him and the other presenters. 

“I would rather sleep with a glove on than get woken up and stabbed in the hand three times a night,” said Joe Davy, co-founder of Durham enterprise intelligence firm EvoApp. 

“It solves a very important problem and it saves the medical system a lot of money,” fellow panelist Miles Palmer of Durham technology incubator Palmer Labs said admiringly. 

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Questions, concerns linger over Trinity Park perc cleanup

Trinity Park and Walltown residents told environmental officials Tuesday evening that they need to improve the way they communicate. 

That message was conveyed at a three-hour meeting last night called to discuss the first phase of cleanup plans at 1103 W. Club Blvd. That’s the site where a former dry-cleaning business’ perchloroethylene evidently tainted nearby buildings’ air as well as some neighborhood soil and ground water. 

Officials with the state Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Cary engineering firm that is planning the cleanup brought posters illustrating the extent of contamination, but attendees said more clarity is needed. 

“Nobody could look at that and say, ‘That’s above the [permitted contamination] level, that’s below the level. I’m safe, she’s not safe,’” said Barb Carter, a chemist and pharmaceutical patent attorney who lives just outside the area affected by the spill. “There’s no reassurance, there was no explanation. And so I’m requesting something from you that helps us understand. Because I’m not afraid of perc for various reasons — maybe I ought to be — but everybody else is.” 

Two Walltown residents also complained that their neighborhood had not been officially contacted at all about the spill despite their proximity to it. Experts, however, noted that most of the chemical has been contained within the block where the former dry-cleaning business was located. 

Billy Meyer is the BB&T cleanup project manager in the branch of DENR that handles work authorized by the state’s Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act, colloquially known as DSCA. The property in question has been on the state’s cleanup list since October 2006. 

“We tried to set up a line of communication with the home-owners’ association, but that line of communication, I guess it turned out to be a line of miscommunication,” he said during his response to Carter. 

He and other DENR officials pledged to improve communication, although they said some of the residents’ frustration was unavoidable due to wrinkles in the cleanup planning and process.  

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Gourmet pizzeria, bakery tenants revealed as Five Points building rehab plans advance

With the vote by City Council on March 21 to sell the city-owned building at the corner of Chapel Hill St. and Morris St. to downtown architect/developer Scott Harmon, plans for the renovation of the historic-but-tired structure are moving forward.

Harmon announced on Tuesday that four businesses have committed to the renovation project, which we featured here several weeks ago -- including an "artisanal pizza" shop planned by a once and future Durhamite, and a brick-and-mortar location for a formerly itinerant cupcake business.


The former, a business set to launch as All City Pizza, marks a homecoming for Gray Brooks, who'll debut the restaurant with wife and fellow foodie-vet Cara Stacy. Brooks is a Durham native who's worked for about thirteen years in the Pacific Northwest as a chef for Seattle serial restaurateur and James Beard Award winner Tom Douglas, most recently as the executive chef for Douglas' pizza concept restaurant, Serious Pie.

Serious Pie earns rave reviews from everyone from the mainstream media to social media food sites like Yelp to (I'm not making this up) national pizza blogs. (And given that Douglas appears to have the hype-machine bug in the PNW just like a certain guy whose name rhymes with tax-i-shaw does around here, that's refreshing to see.)

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Back to the future: Regional transit planners show Durhamites the future of travel

Durham residents got to have their say on plans for expanded regional rail and bus service at a Triangle Transit presentation Wednesday afternoon. 

The centerpiece of the workshop — one of seven being held in Durham, Orange and Wake counties in the third and final round of public meetings before detailed transit recommendations are scheduled to be presented this summer — was unquestionably a set of three separate railroad proposals. Triangle Transit and its partners have laid out a set of routes and stations, none of them final, that would enable travelers to move around the region without cars. 

Both the Durham-Orange and the Wake train systems, or “corridors” as the planners call them, would run on newly installed light rail tracks and run from morning till night. The Durham-Wake system would feature commuter trains running on existing freight lines. The latter service is geared to moving 9-to-5ers between Durham, Research Triangle Park, Cary, N.C. State, downtown Raleigh and even Johnston County. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Plenty of information was laid out on poster boards and tables Wednesday. Here’s a quick sketch of the bottom line: 

* The Durham-Orange corridor (detailed map; other info here) would run 17 miles from UNC hospitals to Durham’s Alston Avenue, feature 17 stations, take 34 minutes to travel end to end, and cost about $1.4 billion to construct in 2010 money ($82 million per mile). It would carry 10,000 to 12,000 riders a day in 2035 and cost $14.3 million annually to operate (in 2010 dollars). 

* The Durham-Wake corridor (detailed map; other info here) would run 37 miles between Duke hospitals and Greenfield at the Wake-Johnston line, feature 12 stations, take 51 minutes to traverse, and cost $629 million to build ($17 million per mile). It would carry 6,500 to 7,500 riders daily and cost $10.9 million to operate. 

* The Wake corridor (detailed map; other info here) would run 18 miles from Cary to downtown Raleigh to the Triangle Town Center in North Raleigh, feature 20 stations, take 34 to 41 minutes to traverse, and cost from $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion to construct ($78 million to $89 million per mile). It would carry 14,000 to 15,000 riders daily and cost $15.5 million to operate. 

The Durham-Wake cost is significantly lower than its counterparts’ because that system would mainly use existing freight tracks. That’s a big difference from the train proposal that was scrapped in 2006, which would have required new light rail tracks to be laid between Durham and Raleigh. 

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INC briefing lays out transportation timeline for road, transit, pedestrian needs

City, regional and state transportation officials spent nearly two hours briefing the InterNeighborhood Council on foot-, bicycle-, bus- and car-related matters Tuesday evening. 

Transportation planners, looking ahead to 2035, estimate that by then the Triangle will be home to 2.6 million people, twice the amount who lived here in 2005. In the last 20 years, the region has seen significant growth in road delays, and that trend is expected to continue. 

As a potential solution, planners continue to call for what they characterize as a balanced transportation system — one that features mass transit, bicycling and walking, not just private automobiles. 

None of the officials who spoke Tuesday were in any position to promise an overnight revolution, of course. But here’s a selective summary of some developments area residents can expect, starting with the near future and looking ahead a decade or more. 

Below the jump, we'll survey what's new and news -- including changes to DATA and regional bus service, more traffic calming devices on Duke/Gregson and other urban Durham streets, and a glimmer of hope that the Duke Beltline rail corridor may in fact come back in for future urban trail use.

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King's Sandwich Shop featured in nice ABC 11 vignette

King's Sandwich Shop owner TJ McDermott left me a voice mail on Friday letting me know that WTVD ABC 11 was running a package on Saturday morning focused on the renovation of the Geer and Foster landmark, which re-opened last year.

Endangered Durham's Gary Kueber (who provides some background and context on historic renovation in the segment) featured this video up at his place, and I wanted to share it here, even as I imagine our blog readerships largely overlap. Still, this is too good a watch to miss.

I had seen the videographer at one of King's early opening dates, and understood then that the station was tracking the rehab of the eatery over time. The result is a nice, three and a half minute look at the return of a special place in our Bull City.

Saturday's time to get down on one knee and "Marry Durham"

Marrydurham There's no other town in the Triangle that would, could, should ever try to do a quirky, crazy event like tomorrow's "Marry Durham" fête, scheduled for 4pm tomorrow near the corner of Rigsbee and Geer downtown.

But then, isn't that why so many of us who live here love it so much?

From the town (and some of the same people) that brought you the Beaver Queen Pageant, this weekend's the time for the Bull City's first-ever mun-uptuals (municipal nuptuals, natch).

Look, for all of Durham's once-and-sometimes-still urban underdog reputation, our fair city's come a long way in recent years. I've only been here since around 2005, and the difference is still impressive to me. And when I talk to those who've been around since the 1990s, 1980s or earlier, I get an even stronger reaction.

In that vein, tomorrow's little wedding celebration might seem to be just a celebration of the fact that the Bull City's still, well, rising.

But it seems to me to be more than that, too. It's about more than a simple affinity for one's community of choice; it's about, fittingly, the passion and committment that Durhamites seem to feel for their home.

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Downtown Durham and the wisdom of the crowds: When does more become too much?

“Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded,” famed Yankee Yogi Berra was reputed to have said of a certain popular restaurant. 

With Bull City Burger and Brewery set to debut in a week's time, and a new beer garden expected to open in the Central Park area in the spring, Durham’s once-desolate downtown is becoming more and more of a dining and drinking destination. That’s not even factoring in plans for developing Five Points, which could boast three new eateries by the close of 2012. 

But is Durham approaching the point where addition becomes subtraction? Might Berra’s paradox soon become a fitting epitaph for Bill Kalkhof’s favorite district

So wondered this correspondent, who proceeded to pitch a pair of hypotheses to some central city spokespeople. 

The first scenario will ring a bell with most anyone who’s ever tried to visit Manhattan by automobile. Will downtown development draw so many people that parking becomes a major hassle? (You may identify with this if you’ve ever sought a spot for your car near Rigsbee and Geer when Fullsteam and Motorco are both pulling large crowds.) 

The second scenario: Could so many businesses — especially restaurants and bars — open in Durham’s core that there simply aren’t enough customers to go around? 

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Bull City institution reaches end of the line on Friday as Dillard's closes its doors

One of Durham’s barbecue institutions will serve its last meal on Friday. 

“The economy,” explained Wilma Dillard, owner of the restaurant bearing her family’s surname. “The economy. I can’t keep up.” 

The business at 3921 Fayetteville St. began as a mom-and-pop grocery in 1953; next door, in what is now a dining room, Dillard’s mother ran a beauty salon. About 10 years after the store opened, it began selling barbecue sandwiches. A transition to full-fledged food service followed. 

Dillard herself graduated from Hillside High School and North Carolina Central University before becoming a special education teacher at Rogers-Herr Middle School. She joined the family business some 14 years ago following her father’s death. 

“I grew up here,” Dillard said as the restaurant’s lunch shift drew to a close Tuesday afternoon. “I thought I was grown up when I got here, but I had a lot to learn.” 

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No news for now, but better days are ahead, Loehmann’s Plaza owner says

If you’ve driven by Loehmann’s Plaza on Hillandale Road recently, you could be forgiven for getting the impression that everything in the area is thriving but for the shopping center. 

The plaza is just north of two hotels and a bustling gas station. Interstate 85, which carries 85,000 automobiles per day, lies to the south of the hotels. Croasdaile Country Club and a neighborhood full of high-end homes sits to the west. Hillandale Road, which is used by 18,000 cars daily, is in the middle of a widening project, scheduled to be completed in June 2012. And right across the street, just beyond two Department of Veterans Affairs medical clinics, a large new apartment development is under construction. 

Then there’s the plaza itself, which lost its namesake tenant years ago. That’s not the only thing missing; while the south end of the plaza is relatively full, many of the stores on the north side are empty. (Kerr Drug is a notable exception.) Although a medical building with multiple Duke clinics sits immediately north of the plaza, an independent clinic once located on that end of the shopping center moved out long ago. 

That high vacancy rate, coupled with a general air of neglect, has left some of the remaining businesses struggling to maintain their cash flow, according to recent interviews with owners and managers. 

“Definitely we need a change, and we need the people to come this way,” said Angelika Papanikas, who owns Papas Grille and the neighboring Front Street Cafe with her husband. 

“We look so empty,” complained Papanikas, whose restaurant opened in Loehmann’s Plaza 17 years ago. 

“It’s not ideal,” agreed Andre Chabaneix, the owner of Meelo Restaurant, who unlike other plaza tenants interviewed said his nearly three-year-old eatery has been growing at a modest but steady clip. “The location is great. It’s a pity that it’s in this situation.” 

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