Dependable Erection

Friday, December 15, 2006

Downtown Durham renaissance in the NYTimes

Interesting article in the New York Times the other day about Durham's downtown renaissance. It's generated the usual discussion on local listservs about what they got wrong, which, if you've ever read an article in a big newspaper about people and places you know well, just comes with the territory.

They actually did better than average, and i particularly like the focus on using the reconstruction of downtown to tell Durham's story. The story is important and instructive to know, especially for those of us who have chosen to live here. I grew up in a rapidly developing Suffolk County, NY during the 60s and 70s. At the time, there were kids who thought that knocking over tombstones in Revolutionary War era cemeteries was a good time.

As more and more people from out of town move to this area, we need to do a better job letting them know, for example, why the Royal Ice Cream building was worth saving.

But what i wanted to talk about was an interesting chicken and egg question that arose in the midst of the story.

Directly across the street is the SunTrust Tower, a 17-story Art Deco building completed in 1937, which the developers also bought. It will be converted into apartments and condos. Meanwhile, the restoration of historic midrise buildings is under way up and down both Parrish and Main Streets, although little in the way of new commercial activity has taken place.

“We’re going to keep ground-floor retail spaces off the market until the residential is built up more,” Mr. Lemanski said. “We’re going to market the entire area at once. The worst thing is if people trickle in, businesses fail, and people trickle back out.”

“We’re investing over the long run,” Mr. Webb added, “so we don’t mind waiting until more pieces of the puzzle are in place.”

Downtown Durham is currently a pretty vacant place, especially after dark and especially since Joe and Jo's closed. But prices for some of the residential condos coming on the market are reaching and exceeding the $200/square foot range, which is not any discount to other downtowns in the state or region, or even to many of the neighborhoods that surround the downtown..

The developers have clearly determined that residents are going to have to come before the service oriented businesses that they will support are started up. The big question is how many people are going to pony up to buy an apartment in a downtown that provides, for the foreseeable future, almost none of the amenities you would expect in a modern downtown.

I guess the market will tell us.



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