Durham County

Durham City Council approves economic incentives for West End renovation

The City Council approved a $100,000 economic incentive for a project to transform an automotive building at 1105 W. Chapel Hill Street, right, into a banquet hall and offices for a production company and nonprofit organization.
The City Council approved a $100,000 economic incentive for a project to transform an automotive building at 1105 W. Chapel Hill Street, right, into a banquet hall and offices for a production company and nonprofit organization. vbridges@newsobserver.com

The Durham City Council unanimously approved a $100,000 economic development incentive to turn a former automotive service center into an event space for culinary incubator The Cookery and offices for the company that produces the PBS series “A Chef’s Life.”

Seminary Avenue Redux LLC plans to renovate the 9,000 square foot, two-story building at 1105 W. Chapel Hill St. that will also house the offices of the Southern Documentary Fund, a nonprofit that supports documentary projects made in or about the American South.

The first floor will become a banquet hall that will house an expansion for The Cookery. The second floor will become the headquarters for production company Markay Media, which is working on a new series on Chef Ricky Moore, who owns Saltbox Seafood Joint. The space will also include a community space that local organizations can use for meetings.

Markay Media owner Cynthia Hill is also a part-time real estate developer and managing partner of Seminary Avenue Redux.

The $1.2 million redevelopment project will create seven full-time jobs in the first year and 18 by the fifth, according to a city report. The project has a ratio of 11.8 to 1 ratio of private to public funding.

Both The Cookery and Markay Media said they pay their employees a living wage. The Durham Living Wage Project defines a living wage as at least $12.53 per hour.

More scrutiny

The project comes as some City Council members want more scrutiny of incentives, making sure development in five neighborhoods surrounding downtown considers the consequences of such changes, such as gentrification.

On Monday City Council members said they supported the project after asking Hill questions about whether she reached out the West End community and how the development will serve the neighborhood. Hill said officials have met with Burch Avenue Neighborhood Association, Partners Against Crime group in District 3, and the Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project.

Hill said they talked with the groups about how to work together to bring the community together, offer what they do as a resource and develop local talent.

“What drives us is our sense of community, and wanting to be here and stay here, and tell those stories and have the people who live here also be able to work with us,” said Hill of Durham.

Cookery co-owner Nick Hawthorne-Johnson, who lives in the West End neighborhood, said the business has hosted neighborhood organizations and residents, including the Pauli Murray Project, which is renovating the social justice activist’s childhood home on Carroll Street.

City’s investment

The project, which is between The Cookery and the Durham Co-op Market, is one of three in the West End neighborhood’s West Chapel Hill Street commercial corridor that the city has invested $369,000 in the past three years.

The city contributed $100,000 for the redevelopment of a former gas station at 1200 W. Chapel Hill St. into a new restaurant concept from the owners of Nosh. The city contributed $220,000 to a streetscape project at an office and retail space at the corner of West Chapel Hill and Kent streets. The city also contributed $49,000 to Seminary Avenue Redux to redevelop another gas station into two commercial spaces, one of which will be the home of Local Yogurt.

The West End neighborhoods – generally considered the trio of Burch Avenue, West End and Lyon Park – are a group of historically blue-collar and African-American-majority neighborhoods located between downtown and Duke University.

It has become a burgeoning neighborhood in recent years where average price per square foot of houses has been rising. creating one of the most diverse residential areas in the city.

The price per square foot for a home jumped nearly 59 percent to $165 per square foot from 2014 to 2016, according to data provided by Urban Durham Realty. Prices have more than doubled from $72 per square foot in 2007.

Staff reporter Zachery Eanes contributed to this article.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges