Durham County

Diversifying downtown businesses Durham new focus in DDI master plan

Though seeing business growth since the last time Downtown Durham Inc.’s master plan was updated eight years ago, downtown is lacking diversity, officials said Tuesday.

DDI’s updated plan was presented to members of the joint city-county committee meeting with diversity as the newest category stemmed from public forums.

Diversity encompasses land use, business owners, housing and race, said Matt Gladdek, DDI director of policy and planning.

“What makes it so unique is how vibrant the downtown is the history of Black Wall Street -- the history of businesses that make Durham special,” Gladdek said.

However Commissioner James Hill said it’s a focus currently lacking.

“I don’t see it in terms of racial diversity,” Hill said. “I’m looking for places lots of times.”

Commissioner Brenda Howerton said she wants to know what the community can do to bring small minority business back downtown.

“Because right now they’re pressed out,” Howerton said.

During her short three months as DDI’s newest chief executive officer, Nicole J. Thompson said it’s an issue “that’s come up.”

It’s why it’s now part of the master plan, Thompson said.

“We want to ensure that as we work with minority-owned business and women owned business that they’re able to be sustained downtown and that they understand all the challenges that might be preventing that diversity from occurring,” she said.

Gladdek said the “rapid” growth downtown, diversity is a matter DDI officials are aware of and want to address.

It’s a focus of two of DDI’s subcommittees, along with providing information about economic development, construction contracts or retail space, he said.

It’s also reflected in the vision statement of the master plan.

“Downtown is a thriving neighborhood that attracts diverse talent and residents with its concentration of cultural, educational, employment and commercial opportunities,” Gladdeck said, reading the statement. “It continues to distinguish itself nationally by embracing the diversity that makes downtown Durham standout amongst its peers.”

Other focuses:

Aside from diversity, other focuses of the new plan includes connectivity, logistics and design downtown.

Design deals with keeping downtown unique and new development dense, Gladdeck said.

Connectivity ensures residents can get to and around downtown, linking it to neighborhoods and ensuring there’s no dead zones.

Logistics in the management and fuction, parking, promoting and programming.

“As we all know there is no available parking downtown for multi-uses,” Gladdeck said. “This is something that has to be moving forward to make sure that we don’t overfill parking but that we provide an efficient use of the parking that we have.”

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she thinks American Tobacco provides an ideal models for businesses by subsidizing Go Access for all employees who work at the campus.

Reckhow said ideas from larger cities like Washington D.C. or Los Angeles for Durham to explore are surveying residential complexes or churches willing to lease spaces during business hours.

Also outlined in the plan are collaborative redevelopment and local parcels.

“ We need to take a look at what should be used for housing,what should be used for parking, how can we make sure that we’re placing these very pressing needs at the best spot that we have available,” Gladdeck said.

Economic development goals are to increase office space, transportation alternatives, public-private partnerships and retail opportunities.

Rachael Riley: 919-419-6646, @RachaelRiley85