The head of the Durham Performing Arts Center, a city-owned building that brings in millions of dollars, is calling on city leaders to reject a light-rail plan that would close Blackwell Street to traffic, calling it “a mistake.”
DPAC General Manager Bob Klaus said the closing would negatively affect the 500,000 people who visit DPAC and nearby restaurants downtown every year.
The Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is a proposed 17.7-mile light-rail line connecting UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to Duke University to N.C. Central University, with stops in between, including downtown Durham.
The $2.47 billion project is in the engineering phase, with GoTriangle scheduled to apply for federal funding in the spring. Construction would begin in 2020, with light-trail operations starting in 2028, according to GoTriangle’s plan.
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GoTriangle’s plan calls for closing the Blackwell Street railroad crossing to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The street connects DPAC and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park will the rest of downtown.
Last week, Capitol Broadcasting executive Michael Goodmon quit the light-rail fundraising board over the street-closing plan. Capitol Broadcasting owns the Durham Bulls and the American Tobacco Campus.
On Monday afternoon, Klaus emailed Durham Mayor Steve Schewel and City Manager Tom Bonfield a letter calling GoTriangle’s plan “a mistake” and saying “problems that this plan will create for the general public, the DPAC, the DBAP, and downtown Durham businesses far outweigh any benefits the GoTriangle Plan might provide.”
Klaus wrote that neither DPAC nor Bulls management thinks visitors will use a park and ride and then take light rail the rest of the way to their venues. “Either they will continue to downtown Durham in their own vehicle or they will stop coming,” Klaus said.
GoTriangle has offered to work with downtown stakeholders on a “signature civic space” with an alternate pedestrian connection on Blackwell Street. John Tallmadge, GoTriangle’s interim project director, said the agency has $20 million, plus $2 million for design and engineering, budgeted for the final design.
Duke University President Vincent Price also doesn’t want the Blackwell Street crossing closed. Duke has its own concerns about the light-rail plan along Erwin Road.
The DPAC letter comes as the City Council takes a key vote Monday night on the light-rail project’s operations and maintenance facility planned for southwest Durham. Nearby homeowners and parents of Creekside Elementary School want the council to reject the rezoning that would allow the rail yard.
However, the People’s Alliance political group, whose PAC endorsed most of council, and Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) want the council to vote yes on the rezoning to move the project forward.