NINTH STREET SHUFFLE
Walking down Ninth Street with her co-workers in search of lunch, Patty Davis found herself headed to the new Tex-Mex restaurant Tijuana Flats.
The restaurant, a corporate-owned location of a Florida-based chain, held its official opening day on Monday at 703 Ninth St.
While Davis said that she prefers to support locally owned businesses, the restaurant she had planned to patronize, Dain’s Place, was closed that day.
“I would think there would be some Durham people who would not be happy,” she said of the addition of more national chains to the street’s restaurant scene. However, she noted that the franchisees behind chain locations also can be local residents.
Durham’s new Tijuana Flats restaurant is just one example of changes coming to Ninth Street. Nearby, a new hotel, apartment complex and Harris Teeter grocery store all are under construction.
The Hilton Garden Inn hotel and the Harris Teeter grocery store are both targeted to open in November. The new 303-unit apartment complex, which is now known as Crescent Ninth Street, is expected to open this winter.
And the building that houses the Tijuana Flats was renovated along with several other retail spaces on the western side of Ninth Street.
Raleigh-based Chartwell Property Group and Regency Centers, a national developer, owner and operator of commercial property, partnered in the redevelopment of that building as well as several others on that side of Ninth, including one that houses Jimmy John’s, and another that previously housed the restaurant George’s Garage.
They’ve landed new tenants to fill the retail spaces in the buildings including Massage Envy, Panera Bread, as well as a locally owned salon.
Tom Miller, a resident of the nearby Watts-Hospital Hillandale neighborhood who’s also the neighborhood association’s zoning committee chairman, said reaction to the new Ninth Street-area development projects has been mixed among neighborhood residents.
Some are concerned about national chains competing with established local businesses, while he said others think the new shops shouldn’t be seen as a threat. Instead, they could be a means to bring in more potential customers.
“Durham’s growing, I think it’s good for the area,” said Durham resident Curtis Morton, who was eating at Tijuana Flats in Durham for the second time on Monday.
Morton said he came for a walk-through and free food opening event last week. He returned with his friend, Burlington resident Tim Roupe, for the official opening. The two college friends try to meet for a meal at least once a month.
Morton spoke positively about new development in the Ninth Street area that he said is relatively close to the city’s downtown.
Britt Broady, Duke University’s assistant field hockey coach, also patronized the restaurant on its official opening day. She said she was excited about the opening of the Tijuana Flats near Duke’s East Campus.
“The more eating options available for people, the better,” she said.
She added that she believes the new development will help the Ninth Street area compete with other Triangle destinations, such as The Streets at Southpoint mall.
“I think this could be really good for the area with new places opening up,” she said.
Casey Vorbeck, area supervisor for Tijuana Flats in North Carolina, said company officials believe they’ll do well in the area close to Duke.
The chain, which started its first location in 1995, is looking to grow in the state, he said.
There are existing locations in Raleigh, Cary and in Holly Springs. The chain is looking to add locations around Charlotte and elsewhere in the Triangle.
There are more than 90 restaurant locations in total in North Carolina as well as in Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The new location in Durham has brightly colored walls and seats 65.
While Vorbeck said that someone came into the restaurant and told him that people were resentful of change in the area, he said the restaurant has been “welcomed with open arms.”
Several local business owners were positive about the area’s new development.
“I’m pretty stoked,” said Michael Bell, who owns the smoking equipment and record shop Hunky Dory at 718 Ninth St. He said he believes the new development will bring more foot traffic to Ninth.
“You’ve got a high-quality grocery store coupled with lots and lots of apartments coming,” he said. “That’s going to put more people on the street, which typically means more money (for) our business.”
John Valentine, co-owner of The Regulator Bookshop at 720 Ninth St., said area residents were grumbling six months to a year ago, but he said that was before they saw the development taking shape.
“The people across the street are doing a great job of integrating old Ninth Street and new Ninth Street,” he said. “It’s really nice the way they’re anticipating the parking and just the general ambiance of the area.”
Valentine said he believes the new development will bring more foot traffic, and he believes existing businesses will be able to complete. However, he said it may drive up some costs for them.
“On our side, it’s mostly owners on site,” he said. “I doubt they’ll be able to replicate that across the street. Ninth Street has always been like an incubator for people’s dreams. I think that will continue.”