‘Durham can do it’

Jan. 08, 2014 @ 05:10 PM

As downtown Durham’s comeback from the decline that bottomed out in the 1980s continues, an encouraging sign has been how the redevelopment boom is spreading outward from the city’s core.

To the north, the music/bar/restaurant scene around Foster and Geer streets just keeps expanding, most recently with The Pit barbecue restaurant.  To the east, the Golden Belt complex was an early extender of downtown’s new vitality. (That extension could still be dealt a blow if we’re not more careful about the streetscape from Mangum to Golden Belt.)

To the south, the city and Self-Help are transforming the landscape with the Southside and Rolling Hills redevelopment projects.

In a more low-key way, the West End has been slowly taking on new life in recent years.

A big boost to that redevelopment will be the Kent Corners project, for which Self-Help and partners broke ground Monday. The new construction at West Chapel Hill and Kent streets has several threads worth celebrating.

The retail tenant will be Durham Central Market. The idea of a community-based cooperative grocery store has been a dream of its backers and its many potential customers for years. Frank Stasio, WUNC’s “State of Things” host and the market’s board chair, praised his fellow believers for their patience and persistence at the ceremony Monday and hailed Durham’s willingness to invest in itself.

“Durham Central Market is part of the vision for this neighborhood and this city,” he said.

Other speakers spoke enthusiastically about the efforts Self-Help and other development partners took to work with neighborhoods which, coalesced around the Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project, have been breathing new life into the area. The project will include green space and community gathering spots, and paths to help connect neighborhoods.

Duke University, reflecting its commitment to the West End in recent years, joined the project by moving the Center for Child and Family Health – a collaboration among Duke, UNC and N. C. Central University – into the office portion of the development.

The center works to alleviate trauma to children, and its new location “brings us more to the community,” center executive director Robert Murphy said Monday. “These are the families we work with who we’re committed to and who deserve the best.”

The city of Durham, too, has been instrumental in bringing the Kent Corners project to fruition, and Mayor Bill Bell emphasized at the groundbreaking that for the city “a priority is revitalizing our inner-city communities.”

The groundbreaking crowd on Monday was permeated with people familiar with one another as frequent partners in the comeback in and around downtown. Collaboration and imagination among the partners in this project, like so many others now booming (American Tobacco, West Village, for example), underway or on the drawing boards have become hallmarks of this city’s culture.

As Stasio put it, “If you live in the city of Durham, you know Durham can do it.”

Kent Corners is the latest demonstration of the truth of that statement.