Published: Oct 13, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 13, 2012 04:21 PM
Coming into Durham on Duke University Road, there is an abrupt transition at Kent Street.
For one thing, the name changes to Chapel Hill Street; for another, the surroundings change from a leafy residential section to a business corridor clearly down at the heels.
Self-Help Community Development wants to make it all or at least somewhat better. The nonprofit has bought 2.4 acres at the southeast corner of Chapel Hill and Kent streets to help revitalize the neighborhood.
With a little catalytic redevelopment that area could become an economic center for Durham and for the neighborhoods, said Self-Help spokesman David Beck.
What that catalyst might be is yet to be determined, but West End Neighborhood Association President Sandy Demeree, for one, is excited.
Oh my gosh, that sounds great, she said. Its just what we needed.
Whatever Self-Help does, Its not going to be overnight, Beck said. Planning and exchanging ideas with neighbors and prospective tenants is likely to continue through 2013.
It is likely to be a mix of retail and office space, one or two stories high, and one or two buildings, he said.
West Chapel Hill Street is a major entryway to the city center. Before Chapel Hill Boulevard opened in the early 1950s, it was literally part of the main route between Durham and Chapel Hill, and the stretch between Kent Street and Buchanan Boulevard was once a bustling commercial area with establishments such as the Jack Rabbit Laundry, Hayloft Club, Foys Grill and Aunt Ruths Bakery.
Beyond the commercial strip are two reviving inner-city neighborhoods: historically white Burch Avenue on the north, toward Duke East Campus, and historically black West End on the south. Both are part of Duke Universitys Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life uplift project and an city targeted area for revitalization aid.
Since the 1970s, commerce has fallen off along West Chapel Hill Street, but its potential has caught attention.
• In 2005, Fuqua School of Business students performed a market analysis that made several suggestions for meeting neighborhood consumer demand and getting business from commuters in the 11,000 cars that use the corridor every day.
• In 2007, the citys economic development office picked it to be one of five depressed business districts to get aesthetic upfits in the Neighborhood Commercial Streetscape project, in the hope of stimulating business. Meetings were held and designs drawn up, but money hasnt been available to go any further, said Economic Development Director Kevin Dick.
• In 2010, UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Andrea C. Arnold wrote a masters paper, Commercial Revitalization Strategies For West Chapel Hill Street ( bit.ly/RPYpch
), quoting a business analyst that the street is a no mans land between Duke University and downtown.
Its dead, said Demeree. That corridor needs to be perked up, it needs to be a destination.
A drugstore has been repeatedly mentioned as a neighborhood need, and Demeree added that a meeting site a cafe or restaurant type place would be welcome.
Healthy businesses could add jobs, she said; at the same time, any plans need to include buffer zones between the existing homes and whatever new comes in.
We have a familiarity with a lot of neighborhoods that are struggling, said Beck. Self-Help has done some residential redevelopment nearby, and in 2005 began buying property along Kent and Chapel Hill streets.
Hopefully we can do something thats positive for all concerned, he said.