Durham CAN's public subsidy tour: a beginner's guide to tax incentives, diversity and affordable housing downtown


Photo by Gary Kueber; courtesy OpenDurham.org


This post has been corrected to reflect that the option on Fayette Place expires in August 2017, not this year.

It is only 1.2 miles from downtown Durham to the old Fayette Place, the former housing project at the gateway to the historic Hayti neighborhood. Last Saturday morning, about 40 people took a three-minute bus ride to see what many view only from the highway.

“It looks like an archaeological dig,” a man said.

“This is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen,” added a woman, who was trying to photograph the desolation with her smartphone.

But a camera cannot capture the blightscape of the 19 acres at Fayetteville and Umstead streets, near the Durham Freeway. Encased by a chain-link fence, the property is scarred with dozens of concrete slab foundations and crumbling brick steps that once went to front doors and now lead to nowhere.

From the highway, the land looks like it has been flattened by a bomb. From the street, it is a constant and embarrassing reminder of the neglect in this predominantly African-American neighborhood.

“If this were in any other neighborhood, there’s no way it would have been allowed to lay like this,” said the Rev. William Lucas, pastor of nearby First Chronicles Community Church. The group had disembarked the bus at Grant and Merrick streets, an eerily isolated block embedded between the abandoned property and the freeway. “This area can go from one to 100 in a second,” Lucas said of the crime in the neighborhood. “It’s real serious here.”

The occasion for the bus ride to this and other prime real estate in and near downtown was the Durham CAN public subsidy tour. About 200 people gathered to learn about the evolution of downtown development, its opportunities for affordable housing, and the market forces and the public subsidies and tax incentives that shape its future.

That future, everyone agreed, should include a downtown made vibrant by racial and economic diversity.

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Burt’s Bees work today to further Bull City urban farms

A local personal hygiene product maker is donating a day of service in an effort that could boost Durham’s urban farming movement. 

Nearly 400 locally based Burt’s Bees employees are scheduled to work today at three sites controlled by the local nonprofit NEEM. The group’s founder and director, Jeff Ensminger, called the donation of labor “one of the coolest things I’ve seen a company do.” 

The activity will be taking place at NEEM’s headquarters, Rolls Garden, at 2001 Chapel Hill Road; on a 0.9-acre parcel at 1000 Hazel St.; and on an 8.3-acre parcel at 1500 Wabash St. Workers will build a greenhouse, paint a building, put in raised beds and do other work at the different sites. 

All three sites will be used to grow food. The location Ensminger calls Organoponico Hazel, using a Cuban term for urban farm, will be developed to sell produce. NEEM’s head hopes proceeds from that endeavor will enable him to hire local residents to cultivate the plots.

The other new NEEM location, Organoponico Wabash, will be developed as an agricultural research station in conjunction with North Carolina Central University, which the property is near. 

Beth Ritter is Burt’s Bees’ senior vice president of human resources. 

“We like what it’s about, that it’s about bringing great...food to more folks in Durham,” she said. “And maybe into some neighborhoods that might not normally have access to this.” 

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Blackstone announces major grant initiative to support new businesses

Some of the most prominent figures in the Triangle and the state joined forces Monday morning for the announcement of a new type of entrepreneurial incubator

The launch of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, held in Bay 7 of American Tobacco Campus, drew around 300 attendees. The network, described as the first regional integrated initiative, is being funded by a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. 

Steve Schwarzman, the co-founder, CEO and chairman of investment and advisory firm the Blackstone Group, predicted that the foundation’s investment would provide an enormous boost to the state’s economy. 

“In creating an ecosystem to support aspiring entrepreneurs, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network [is] expected to double the number of startups coming out of this region, attract venture capital at all stages, create approximately 17,000 jobs, attract over $800 million in venture capital, generate revenues of close to $5 billion and [have] countless secondary impacts on the local economy,” he said. 

“The potential is tremendous. The time is right, and the talent sitting in this room, [exemplified] by the heads of these universities and the Research Triangle, is really a remarkable group.” 

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Sunday talk commemorates centennial of Booker T. Washington visit to the Bull City

Booker It's been a hundred years since renowned African-American leader Booker T. Washington came to Durham to speak.

One hundred, exactly, this coming Sunday, Oct. 31, at St. Joseph's AME Church on Fayetteville St.

In that event's honor, Durham's Eddie Davis -- an educator and past state superintendent candidate, and one of the key movers in lobbying for state historic recognition of the Royal Ice Cream site where one of the South's first sit-ins happened -- will give a talk at St. Joseph's (now the Hayti Heritage Center) this Sunday commemorating the centennial.

It's no accident that the centennial comes in the same year that North Carolina Central University is celebrating 100 years of service educating the community.

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Welcome, student friends, to the Bull City show

This BCR post was originally published on Aug. 21, 2007. In honor of the arrival of Duke first-years today and of NCCU first-years and students last week, we're republishing this here with minor edits for their benefit -- and that of those many daily readers who've started reading BCR since then.

I wanted to dedicate this morning's post to Durham's newest residents -- its fair college students, matriculating at NC Central University or Duke University for the first time, perhaps, or returning for a further year of studies. 

The ride into town is a bit less magical than the Hogwarts Express (please do dodge the potholes, they're not just there for the aesthetics), but once you're here, I hope you'll join in in discovering the great things that the Bull City has to offer.

What's that, you say? There's great things in Durham? Surely I jest, you must think.

Well, I'm not kidding. But I understand where you're coming from. 

In the early 1990s, when I was touring college towns to make my own undergraduate choice, I took a look at Durham and headed right back to I-85. It wasn't until a number of years later that I realized that Durham was the right place for my wife and I to live, the place we felt most at home anywhere we'd lived on the East Coast. (I've chronicled that transformation on this earlier blog post.)

I think one of the most jarring things for many new residents of the Bull City -- particularly those hailing from Long Island, or Newton/Wellesley, or Plano, or Manassas, or the like -- is that Durham doesn't look like suburban America. Everything isn't tied up in neat subdivisions and strip malls, outparcels and freeways. 

Those things exist here, too, but there are actual streets and blocks that haven't (entirely) been torn up for re-development. There are old tobacco and textile factories that haven't been demolished, but instead form the bulk of the skyline.

There are poor people here -- wealthy people, too, but plenty of poor people. And African-Americans and Latinos and Asians and Native Americans, and Caucasians too.

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Swearing-in, NCCU expansion top City Council agenda

The election season formally comes to an end tonight with the swearing in of the four re-elected incumbents to the mayoral and City Council seats -- or, as it's formally called, their "installation."

BCR projects the installation should proceed without any interruption in government service, since all four Councilfolk have previously been installed in their positions, meaning re-installation should proceed without a hitch. (Yes, I find the term "installation" to be a bit technical, don't you?)

At any rate, the most interesting thing on tonight's Council agenda -- besides the rounds of applause and well-wishes from members of the community who come by to attend the installation, and the recycling contract mentioned earlier in the Fishwrap -- is the set of site plan and minor special use permit (MSUP) requests coming in from North Carolina Central.

New_latham_parking_deck Among the requests is a site plan and MSUP for a new parking deck on the site of an existing parking lot north of Lawson St., a loose demarcation line between parts of NCCU and its surrounding neighborhood.

The new Latham Parking Deck would provide space for almost 750 cars, along with 108 spaces left behind on what's already today a surface parking lot for NCCU. 

That provides enough parking to meet the needs of other projects on the docket for tonight -- including a new school of nursing facility and a 520-bed dormitory, Chidley Hall -- along with an additional 409 spaces of "excess parking to serve the campus," according to the staff report.

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Planning process for Fayetteville St meets mistrust from residents

Fayetteville_st_planning_10-7-2009 There's no shortage of plans floating around the Fayetteville St. and NCCU area these days -- from the streetscape plans for the historical corridor, to NCCU's controversial master plan calling for campus expansion in a prized history-tinged area adjacent to the HBCU, to someday-plans for transit and density in the area.

The City/County Planning Department has one more study it's bringing in to the mix: a detailed land-use plan for the corridor, called for in Durham's Comprehensive Plan.

If you think residents might feel a little over-planned, you'd be right. And the resulting tensions were evident at Saturday's Fayetteville-University land use update meeting, held at the Hayti Heritage Center.

They came in the face of not only competing plans, but the revelation by a County senior planner of a 1964-vintage redevelopment plan for the area south of NCCU, and giving the City eminent domain powers over that whole area -- something Planning was quick to say it has no interest in using, though the process of unraveling that plan will take hundreds of signatures and more than a year to complete.

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Hayti Heritage Center forum focuses on black community activism's priorities -- then and now

Fergusd Note: Vanderbilt University history professor Devin Fergus, whose comments led off last Sunday's forum at the Hayti Heritage Center, will be Barry and my guest on the Shooting the Bull radio show tonight, 7:30pm, WXDU 88.7 FM (streaming at wxdu.org). We'll talk about his new book "Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics," and his forthcoming work on the inequities that impoverished Americans face through high costs of financial services, loans and insurance products.

Last Sunday's forum at the Hayti Heritage Center focused on community activism in Durham, as told through the lens of those who'd been at ground zero during efforts like the founding of Malcolm X Liberation University, or the ambitious Soul City "new town" effort in Warren County, or the Joan Little murder case.

All three of these events stand at the center of Vanderbilt University history professor Devin Fergus' new book examining the interplay of liberalism and Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s. And the presence of principals in all three events gave them an opportunity to reflect on Fergus' arguments, their own Durham and regional history -- and to share their own concerns of what today's activist messages and missions should be.

If one thing was clear, it was that the passions of those who fought for civil rights, access to education, justice, and economic opportunity for minorities four decades ago still feel passionately about what matters to them today.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Durham was home to many key players in the civil rights movement, from Duke Law graduate Karen Bethea Shields (who defended Joan Little in her Beaufort Co. murder case) to Howard Fuller (active in MXLU's founding and the local head of Operation Breakthrough in the 1960s) to the late Soul City founder Floyd McKissick (whose daughter, Dr. Charmaine McKissick Melton, spoke at the forum).

St. Joseph's Historic Foundation director Dianne Pledger argued in her opening remarks to the forum that this was no accident, with Durham's post-Civil War founding as an industrial and manufacturing center freeing it from some of landholders' biases and existing social structures that impaired progress for African-Americans in other cities.

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McLaughlins move forward without The Know on Fayetteville St. -- and why their new financial plan makes sense

Less than a couple of weeks after a Monday night City Council meeting that seemed to deeply frustrate Mozella McLaughlin and her family in their quest to gain City incentives towards the renovation of the building housing The Know bookstore on Fayetteville St., today brings news of a big shift in direction for the plans.

The building owner's son, William McLaughlin, told the N&O's Jim Wise on Thursday that The Know would no longer be a part of the renovation plans, and needed to be out of the building by December 31. The Know's owner, tenant-at-will Bruce Bridges, clashed publicly with the McLaughlins over what he says was a co-opting of his idea and a shrinkage of his space in a way that would make his bookstore no longer viable as a business. That move came after a long mediation session yesterday, Wise reports.

McLaughlin also tells Wise that City incentive dollars may or may not be a part of the plan -- a plan whose construction costs will shrink by $200,000 as the McLaughlins eliminate a planned green roof feature from the project.

From BCR's perspective, the latter is perhaps the best news to come up in some time for the McLaughlin project, representing what we'd speculate could be the difference in the effort's ability to qualify for financing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And that's no small issue. The economic viability of the project has been one of the key question marks floating around the public debate over the project. That's doubly true because of the effort's reliance on private-sector financing for the renovation and expansion of the structure.

Some -- notably City Councilman Farad Ali -- have argued with some persuasiveness that that inquiry goes beyond the real of what's appropriate for the discussion of public incentives. We're sympathetic to his point, but let's hold off on that to the end, shall we?

Over the past week, BCR has reached out to a half-dozen developers and financiers to gauge their opinions on the pro formas submitted by the McLaughlins to the City as part of their incentives grant (and, thus, available as part of the public record.)

Our verdict here at BCR? There's some question marks and weak points in the figures, but they're weaknesses that are much less likely to matter with a significantly-reduced price tag for the project.

Let's take a look at some of the financial questions, by the numbers -- and then talk about why it all matters.

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Inaugural Duke-NCCU game arrives -- with predictable national media annoyance to boot


We at BCR aren't much in the way of being college football fans, but as Durhamites, what's not to love about this weekend's matchup between the now-Division I team at NC Central and the somehow-still-Division I team at Duke?

It's the first game between the two universities' football teams in the schools' history. It's a big day for the historically black college and university and for the Blue Devils alike.

The Saturday night game festivities start this afternoon, with a pep rally featuring the teams, school bands, food, games and music down at the historic Durham Athletic Park (5:30pm). There's free admission to this pigskin party. The game itself (tickets $25) starts at 7pm on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

As the N&O notes in their nice feature story on the game today, this is a great chance for two teams widely seen as being on the right growth trajectory to play each other -- to say nothing about supporting what Central's athletic director calls a "natural bond throughout history" between the two universities, both of which share links back to several common benefactors in the Duke family.

So, just what do the national media have to say about this little game?

Well, if you followed the lacrosse idiocy a few years back, you shouldn't have to wonder much.

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