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Downtown Durham in 2006


Bissey
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So it seems that the proverbial cats are out of their bags. There's been a lot of activity in Durham's downtown lately, and new restaurants seem to be in planning stages wherever you look. I'm curious, as someone involved in one of these new developments, what the general dining public thinks about venturing further east than Duke Street for a decent meal. Is this really gonna work? Durham has been talking about the Possibility of downtown for longer than I've been able to point it out on a map. Are we finally seeing the rennaisance that's been on folks' minds for years?

More importantly, what can be done to make restaurants in downtown Durham help breathe some life into those lonely windswept blocks?

If we build it, will they come?

-jason.

Will cook for food.

jasonbissey@yahoo.com

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Downtown Durham has so much potential, but until something is done about the crime, I do not always feel safe walking around after dark, and that often makes me want to spend my evening elsewhere. I saw the Shanghai Circus at the Carolina Theater a few weekends ago -- we walked the theater and and Another Thyme for dinner. The evening was lovely, except for the walk between the two. I don't know how much money Duke can throw at this district to improve the late night safety.

Personally, I think if resturants wish to attract people to the area, they have to offer something beyond exciting food -- they have to offer personal safety, and the promise your hubcaps won't get stolen during your meal :blink: (happened to my parents!). George's Garage is close to Duke, predictable (for what thats worth), and parking is close and safe -- Dukies might perfer to dine there than risk it downtown!

The ATHD complex across from the stadium has an impressive list of tenents, if resturants and attractions can get those people to stay Downtown for dinner and drinks after work, I think they have a chance. Unfortunately, the downtown area has a bad reputation and that will take a long time to get rid of.

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The hardest part about revitalizing any area is that there is little long term reward for the trailblazers. If you're the first to go into a potential transition area and it doesn't "transition", then you lose. If it does, then others will soon follow and public that you had a brief monopoly on will soon be spread around to other restaurants. By then, few will care that you were there first and the only advantage you may have is that you got into a cheaper lease than the others. So what, besides the pride in knowing you helped turn around a neighborhood, is in it for you if take the risk rather than wait it out let someone else be the guinea pig.

The landlords really need to be ready to play ball because they'll be the biggest winners if this thing goes well. Oddly enough, I didn't find that to be the case with the one person I actually spoke with early last year. Certainly I won't name names, but the project was, at best, risky and they wouldn't budge at all on TIs or free rent. They just kept playing the "Downtown Durham is going to be the next hot spot." card. That may well be true, but I couldn't afford to subsidize the project until (and if) that was the case.

American Tobacco is a bit of an exception because they essentially built their own, self supported mini-downtown. Fully equiped with reasonably safe parking, complimentary businesses, and of course, the great seasonal draw of DBAP. I can see why they weren't throwing money at people to go in there.

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Downtown Durham has so much potential, but until something is done about the crime, I do not always feel safe walking around after dark, and that often makes me want to spend my evening elsewhere.  I saw the Shanghai Circus at the Carolina Theater a few weekends ago -- we walked the theater and and Another Thyme for dinner.  The evening was lovely, except for the walk between the two.  I don't know how much money Duke can throw at this district to improve the late night safety.

Did you witness a crime being committed? Were you the victim of a crime during this walk?

My wife and I are regularly in downtown after dark and I rarely feel unsafe or threatened, but I do know a lot of people who feel like you do. The closest I've gotten to figuring it out is that people read about crime in the paper and somehow translate that to downtown. I've been reading the crime briefs for a long time and don't recall ever reading about anything happening between the Carolina Theatre and Brightleaf. I welcome the influx of new restauants and I sincerely hope that there is enough daytime business to keep them going until the nighttime business catches up. Joe and Jo's seems to have enough business and I consider them in downtown. We now have a pharmacy (Gurley's on Main) and restaurants only add to the draw for more people to live in downtown. I'd love to see a grocery as well.

I'll do anything to promote these places. I'd rather be mugged than see more exburb development in Durham County. I hate seeing business dragged away from exiting locations in downtown or at least "in town" because some developer thinks we need another 150 house development near Southpoint. Ugh.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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Downtown Durham has so much potential, but until something is done about the crime, I do not always feel safe walking around after dark, and that often makes me want to spend my evening elsewhere.  I saw the Shanghai Circus at the Carolina Theater a few weekends ago -- we walked the theater and and Another Thyme for dinner.  The evening was lovely, except for the walk between the two.  I don't know how much money Duke can throw at this district to improve the late night safety.

Did you witness a crime being committed? Were you the victim of a crime during this walk?

My wife and I are regularly in downtown after dark and I rarely feel unsafe or threatened, but I do know a lot of people who feel like you do. The closest I've gotten to figuring it out is that people read about crime in the paper and somehow translate that to downtown. I've been reading the crime briefs for a long time and don't recall ever reading about anything happening between the Carolina Theatre and Brightleaf. I welcome the influx of new restauants and I sincerely hope that there is enough daytime business to keep them going until the nighttime business catches up. Joe and Jo's seems to have enough business and I consider them in downtown. We now have a pharmacy (Gurley's on Main) and restaurants only add to the draw for more people to live in downtown. I'd love to see a grocery as well.

I'll do anything to promote these places. I'd rather be mugged than see more exburb development in Durham County. I hate seeing business dragged away from exiting locations in downtown or at least "in town" because some developer thinks we need another 150 house development near Southpoint. Ugh.

I should say that the diner in me agrees with this 100%. I would really love to see this work out over, say, another Shadybrookmeadowcreekfarms development elsewhere.

In all fairness, it should be mentioned that Bryan is a rather imposing figure so it's pretty understandible that nobody would mess with him walking down the street.

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The landlords really need to be ready to play ball because they'll be the biggest winners if this thing goes well.  Oddly enough, I didn't find that to be the case with the one person I actually spoke with early last year.  Certainly I won't name names, but the project was, at best, risky and they wouldn't budge at all on TIs or free rent.  They just kept playing the "Downtown Durham is going to be the next hot spot." card.  That may well be true, but I couldn't afford to subsidize the project until (and if) that was the case.

The prospectors you speak of are certainly in the majority of building owners downtown. I know of at least one landlord who is an exception to that rule, though. There are folks who are doing what they do for the love of it more than for the payoff (though anyone who says they're not in it for the dough shouldn't be trusted).

This topic never seems to fail in stirring up forceful opinions. I was interested to see that the "downtown is a crimeridden ghost town" perspective is still alive and well. That point of view is easily forgotten by those of us who live and work here. People have said that restaurants downtown should have valet parking and security guards... I tend to think that's going a bit far, but then again I'm not an unattended young woman with an expensive car.

Will cook for food.

jasonbissey@yahoo.com

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I have rented in downtown Raleigh, owned in North Raleigh, and I now live in Old North Durham and there is no place I would rather be. If it was up to me I would have bought a condo on Main St. in Durham, but the finacee wanted a house so we are a mile down the road. I agree with bandregg, where is this crime in the downtown area? I agree that crime is an issue in Durham, but between Roxboro and Duke is safe. It seems to me that main st. is the only piece left between brightleaf and American tobacco. Durham residents who live near downtown will support a good restaurant on Main st.. If you are looking for the Duke crowd or the Southpoint crowd, then that area will not work until it is more built up.

With all that being said good luck working with the city council...................

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Walking around in Durham at night is generally not that pleasant. The area is generally uncomfortably dead and muggings do happen, even right outside of Duke. Granted, crime horror stories should be taken with a grain of salt, but it's hard to imagine a significant revitalization with those kind of issues to be dealt with.

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The bottom line is Durham has a bad reputation, at least throughout the Triangle. This is a food forum, but a lot of that "bad reputation" is based in some racism.

When I think of Durham, I think of Winston-Salem. Both cities built on the tobacco and prestigious universities. Both cities are also very divided between rich and poor.

I can go on forever, but if Durham wants to have more growth, they need to do some PR big time.

-----------------

AMUSE ME

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Downtown Durham has so much potential, but until something is done about the crime, I do not always feel safe walking around after dark, and that often makes me want to spend my evening elsewhere.  I saw the Shanghai Circus at the Carolina Theater a few weekends ago -- we walked the theater and and Another Thyme for dinner.  The evening was lovely, except for the walk between the two.  I don't know how much money Duke can throw at this district to improve the late night safety.

Did you witness a crime being committed? Were you the victim of a crime during this walk?

My wife and I are regularly in downtown after dark and I rarely feel unsafe or threatened, but I do know a lot of people who feel like you do. The closest I've gotten to figuring it out is that people read about crime in the paper and somehow translate that to downtown. I've been reading the crime briefs for a long time and don't recall ever reading about anything happening between the Carolina Theatre and Brightleaf. I welcome the influx of new restauants and I sincerely hope that there is enough daytime business to keep them going until the nighttime business catches up. Joe and Jo's seems to have enough business and I consider them in downtown. We now have a pharmacy (Gurley's on Main) and restaurants only add to the draw for more people to live in downtown. I'd love to see a grocery as well.

I'll do anything to promote these places. I'd rather be mugged than see more exburb development in Durham County. I hate seeing business dragged away from exiting locations in downtown or at least "in town" because some developer thinks we need another 150 house development near Southpoint. Ugh.

Six years ago, I was robbed at gunpoint while walking to my car on Geer street. This could have happened in Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh...anywhere in the area, but it was Durham, so I am biased. Perhaps it is paranoia, but I did feel uncomfortable that night!! If you were mugged, you might recant your Southpoint statement (I hope you were speaking in jest!!). In my (very) naieve opinion, part of Durham's bad reputation is because it is being compared to such safe areas as Cary.

I think a grocery store downtown would be great, and would make living downtown a more convenient place for people without access to a car. With the number of businesses and Duke extensions coming downtown, I would hope the increasing lunch business would help support downtown resturants.

On a positive Durham note -- I have friends who live in a new luxury apartment complex on Erwin road near Duke, the Lofts at Lakeview. On Monday night, a chef from Verde hosted a mini-cooking class in the lobby, and taught a group to make a simple risotto dish. This complex has a preparation and demonstration area in the lobby set up for this purpose, and offers a cooking course twice a month. If I could afford the rent ($1300 for a one bedroom!!), I would love living in a place like that. How great is that, an apartment complex that offers cooking classes!!! This complex was built, in part, to attract students and the like to move from the Southpoint area closer to Duke and walk to work/school.

...i think I "hijacked" your thread by bringing up safety issues, and I sincerely apologize!!

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I think a grocery store downtown would be great, and would make living downtown a more convenient place for people without access to a car.  With the number of businesses and Duke extensions coming downtown, I would hope the increasing lunch business would help support downtown resturants.

oh, man. a grocery store would be incredible. i seem to have read somewhere (DDI's newsletter?) that recruiting a major grocery store was on the agenda for 2006. Ever since the Teter closed at Northgate, I have been cut off from Duke's mayonnaise and lightbulbs within walking distance.

My employers and I are really looking forward to serving lunch downtown. I think that a lot of people associate a downtown redevelopment with nightlife, but really most successful small-to-meduim-sized downtowns that I've been to (Asheville, Urbana-Champaign, Savannah) have a bustling daytime crowd as well.

...i think I "hijacked" your thread by bringing up safety issues, and I sincerely apologize!!

not necessary. It is a major concern.

-j.

Will cook for food.

jasonbissey@yahoo.com

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Preamble - I love Durham and I've lived here for 8 years. I've never wanted to live anywhere else in the Triangle. I love Durham's 'do it yourself' attitude. I have one of those 'Durham Love Yourself' stickers. Etc.

That said, one thing I have never mentioned in my thoughts on The Federal Loungue is that on an average night, your odds of having a good meal there are about the same as being approached by a panhandler on the way in. By which I mean pretty good odds for either one. Same at the James Joyce or even Torreros.

(Things are a little different at Fishmongers, where based on my experience, your odds of having a good meal are roughly the same as witnessing a blimping accident in the parking lot)

Same story at the Cosmic Cantina - So this isn't just a 'downtown' phenom. There are spots on 9th street that have the same image problem as the spots closer to downtown.

What is ok about the guys around the James Joyce is that there are usually enough street lights and people out and about so I feel somewhat safe. But stick me on a street in d-town Durham without a soul on it and someone approaching me on the street, I am going to feel pretty threatened. It's just the nature of the tall buildings and narrow streets. I think Jo and Joes (Joe and Jos?) escapes this by being on the outer fringe.

To offer my opinon on the original question 'If we build it, will they come?' - I think the folks who read this will come based on the food. Folks who read and post on this forum will board eat from a taco van on a contruction site if the food passes muster (Rico's Tacos in Brier Creek past the Target on the left - Get there a little before noon or you're in the constructuon lunch break crowd. I liked the lengua(sp? tongue) tacos). But considering that some folks think Magnolia Grill is on a bad side of town, I think any restaurant in Durham d-town proper that doesn't make >75% of its profit on lunch (when people are there working) or delivery will fail.

If my assertion proves incorrect, I will happily walk to such a restaurant to devour a dish of crow. As long as it is prepared well.

~Nibbs

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What is ok about the guys around the James Joyce is that there are usually enough street lights and people out and about so I feel somewhat safe.  But stick me on a street in d-town Durham without a soul on it and someone approaching me on the street, I am going to feel pretty threatened.  It's just the nature of the tall buildings and narrow streets.  I think Jo and Joes (Joe and Jos?) escapes this by being on the outer fringe.

True enough. Hopefully, the return of 2-way streets downtown will bring a more populated feeling to the area, though.

To offer my opinon on the original question 'If we build it, will they come?' - I think the folks who read this will come based on the food.  Folks who read and post on this forum will board eat from a taco van on a contruction site if the food passes muster (Rico's Tacos in Brier Creek past the Target on the left - Get there a little before noon or you're in the constructuon lunch break crowd.  I liked the lengua(sp? tongue) tacos).  But considering that some folks think Magnolia Grill is on a bad side of town, I think any restaurant in Durham d-town proper that doesn't make >75% of its profit on lunch (when people are there working) or delivery will fail. 

Yep.. any "startup" restauranteur that isn't planning on serving lunch downtown should have their wine key revoked for pure idiocy. It's essential. We're hoping to use lunch as a leg-up, enticing folks to come back for dinner.

If my assertion proves incorrect, I will happily walk to such a restaurant to devour a dish of crow.  As long as it is prepared well.

Well, I dunno about crow... maybe hare or pheasant. We'll do our best. ;)

Will cook for food.

jasonbissey@yahoo.com

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BTW. How are people defining "Downtown Durham"? Right or wrong, I tend to see the string of old tobacco warehouses that separate the Brightleaf district from the downtown circle as a bit of a border. Thus, I rarely think of the Joyce or Federal as being downtown even though they're so close. Am I alone in this thought?

Another thought. Speaking of the Harry Teeter at Northgate closing, how do you all see the proposed new Northgate fitting into the mix? From what I hear, they're going to put a ton of money into it and a multi-plex, among other things are planned. Of course, right now it's a borderline ghost town. Mind you, my relationship with malls is rather utilitarian. If I need a new pair of Levis or something, I go there, buy my pants, and leave. Sometimes we catch a flick at Southpoint and if we happen to be hungry, we might grab a burger at the Thunderbirds place (because they actually make a pretty good one). That said, destination mall dining has always struck me as a very strange phenomenon. I think the last time I saw a frabricated mall as social center, I was about 12 years old.

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I will offer a little anecdotal sample to this thead, on the idea that your building it may coincide with their coming.

My wife and I just moved here from Seattle and targeted Durham for the reasons that are listed above: I'd put it this way: it is the most urban of the cities in the triangle, it is a diverse community, and the people here for the most part support and encourage that diversity. And that is more than a sample of one -- some good friends of ours moved here from NYC for generally the same reasons, and I've heard of other examples.

I think as the triangle area continues to grow, we will see more people like us gravitating here (as long as our leaders don't southpoint-ize the whole city), and for people who've lived in cities like Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans, NYC, Boston, the little bit of crime here is not going to discourage us. We recognize that it's part of living in a diverse community. We love good food, and it doesn't have to be of the Magnolia Grill (snore) variety.

I in no way mean to take the pressure of Bell and the rest of the city leadership; the schools are in desperate shape, and the problems with young black kids shooting each other urgently needs to be addressed. But Durham is a real city, and I love that.

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In somewhat related news, Duke just bought up a good deal of the houses immediately surrounding East Campus. Around Swift, Main, Markham, Buchanan, etc. They plan to sell them to individuals and not rent them out to students, as has been done in the past. This improves town-gown relations to a certain extent but also forces Duke students further off campus for social activities. It will be interesting to see if Duke's real estate purchases have any measurable effect.

In also related news, I recently had a meal at Tylyer's Taproom on the inside of the American Tabacco complex. Surprisingly, the place doesn't totally suck. It's better than Applebee's, Friday's, and all that chain crap for less money, too. It's certainly no Federal, but I was pleasantly surprised.

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I go to Tyler's for beer. I've eaten there and at the Tyler's in Carrboro a number of times and I just find it "good food." I'd rather cook than pay for that.

Bryan C. Andregg

"Give us an old, black man singing the blues and some beer. I'll provide the BBQ."

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