Milestones of change

Jun. 09, 2014 @ 06:54 AM
Durham is marking two milestones in what is becoming the city’s narrative city in the early part of the 21sts century.
Proclaiming “a new day in Southside is finally here,” Mayor Bill Bell and other officials cut a ribbon to mark the completion of the project’s home-ownership phase. Barely a week earlier, one of the first homeowners moved into a house on Fargo Street and illustrated a key component of the effort to resurrect what once was the thriving St. Theresa neighborhood. David Steinbrenner, a staff assistant in Duke University’s Office of Postdoctoral Services, was able to purchase his home in large part because of a Duke program to make forgivable $10,000 loans to up to 10 employees to cover downpayments.
And in just a few weeks the city’s incentive payments for the American Tobacco complex redevelopment will begin dropping off. On July 1, the city’s annual obligation to the redevelopment drops from $919,011 to $291,325. By mid-2017, the city will no longer have any incentive obligations – and will annually be reaping considerably more in tax payments than when the complex stood as an abandoned and deteriorating relic of a once-powerful tobacco company.
The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg, in reporting on the sunsetting of the incentive obligations, aptly compared it to burning the mortgage, the often figurative ceremony when a homeowner finally pays off the loan on his or her home.
The city’s effort to overhaul the Southside and Rolling Hills neighborhoods – bordering downtown just a few football fields south of American Tobacco – has been years in the making. It is part of many activities, some private, some public and some both, to spread the surge of new vitality in the center city out beyond its edges.
The Southside-Rolling Hills project is the sort that at times has gone awry in Durham, but the level of optimism that this will succeed, which we share, is high in large part because our recent efforts have been so successful.
No doubt there was considerable risk perceived when the city committed to the incentives without which the American Tobacco project could not have occurred, at least not with the scope and ambition that has made it a gem – and catalytic in downtown’s revitalization.
That bet was made sounder, of course, by the players involved – including, crucially, Capitol Broadcasting, Duke University and Self-Help. Duke and Self-Help are important partners in the Southside-Rolling Hills development, as well as West End redevelopment that is reshaping that gateway to downtown as well.
American Tobacco and Liggett and Meyers – where the likewise abandoned buildings are now in their final phase of resurrection with the renovation of the Chesterfield Building at Duke and Main streets – shaped the growth and powered the economy of Durham in the last century.
It seems appropriate that they are, in their new incarnations, exemplifying the growth and evolving economy of the 21st. And it is gratifying to see the city ensuring their success will be replicated in other neighborhoods as well.