Leaders at N.C. Central University, Durham Technical Community College and the Durham Housing Authority say the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project will bring prosperity to the Fayetteville Street corridor.
The 18-mile, $3.3 billion light-rail project includes two stops — Dillard Street and Alston Avenue — between downtown Durham and NCCU, where the rail line ends.
Fayetteville Street is part of the historic Hayti community, a predominantly African-American area that was disrupted by urban renewal and the construction of the Durham Freeway in the 1960s, which displaced many residents.
Fayette Place, the site of an abandoned public housing community meant to house many of those residents, sits between those stops. NCCU, Durham Tech and the Durham Housing Authority held a press conference there on Monday afternoon with light-rail supporters.
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Michael D. Page, the former county commissioner who is now NCCU’s director of external affairs, said the university sees light rail as a “vital link to campus” that would give future students easy access. NCCU’s new business school would be directly across from a light-rail stop.
The Housing Authority wants to redevelop the Fayette Place property at East Umstead and Grant streets into a mixed-income, mixed use development.
The project is not part of the city’s recently announced five-year affordable housing plan that would be funded if voters pass a $95 million bond referendum in November. But CEO Anthony Scott said the Fayette Place development could happen soon afterward. Light-rail trains are currently planned to start running in 2028.
Durham Tech President Bill Ingram said light rail will lead to well-paying jobs in design, engineering and construction for which the college could train Durham and Orange County residents. The college’s new construction trades program works with Durham Public Schools students starting in 10th grade, he noted.
Mike Broadway of Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods) said it’s time for the historic Hayti community to “reap of some the benefits of Durham’s prosperity.”
“Something is owed to Durham’s relocated, exploited communities,” he said.
Henry McKoy, an instructor in the NCCU School of Business and a representative of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People said light rail could “bring back economic development that’s been missing for so long” around Fayette Place. That area also lies in a federal “opportunity zone,” which offers tax breaks to developers.
“We recognize the legacy of the Durham Freeway,” he said, adding, “It could create a platform not only for workers, but owners and entrepreneurs.”
But that will take access to capital, too, McKoy said. The challenge is to make sure public and private sector come together to support minority entrepreneurs, he said.
“We have to think differently about how we do this. We have to be much more creative,” he said. “I don’t think the black community wants to be seen as a community of ‘no.’ I think a lot of us are moving with good faith,” McKoy said.
The Durham Committee wants to make sure there is not a repeat of the Durham Freeway, he said.
“You know better, you do better,” McKoy said.
Light rail transit has been in the works for several years.
The City Council, county commissioners, and grassroots and political groups have urged support for light rail, but there has been some opposition.
Earlier this month, Durham CAN, Durham Congregations In Action, the People’s Alliance and the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit called on Duke to sign necessary cooperative agreements due this week to move the project forward.
Both city and county leaders have designated publicly owned land downtown for affordable housing in part because the sites are near planned light-rail stops.
Neighbors in Southwest Durham near the Chapel Hill line opposed a recent rezoning for the light rail yard approved by council. Some residents have since filed a lawsuit to stop it.