DURHAM — After more than a year of planning, permitting and sometimes-tense negotiations with their neighbors, Self-Help held a groundbreaking celebration last week for its Kent Corner development.
“This is a day we celebrate patience,” said Tucker Bartlett, Self-Help’s executive vice president.
Due to the fast-falling temperatures, the program was moved from the building site, at the corner of Kent and West Chapel Hill streets, to indoors at The Cookery.
A standing-room crowd of more than 125 heard Bartlett and several other speakers in an hour-long program.
Kent Corner consists of two buildings, a parking lot and greenspace on a 2.7-acre lot. The Center for Child and Family Health is leasing most of the 33,000-square foot office building, while the second building, of 10,000 square feet, is to be occupied by the Durham Central Market co-op grocery.
“You have finally found a home,” Bartlett said to the crowd, which included board chairman Frank Stasio and project manager Don Moffitt. Moffitt, a City Council member, is a former regional manager for Whole Foods.
Self-Help has described Kent Corner as a “catalytic redevelopment” for reviving the long-depressed commercial strip along West Chapel Hill Street, a gateway route between Duke University and downtown.
Neighborhood resident Hazelene Umstead called Kent Corner “an awesome and wonderful project.”
After the speakers, a few dignitaries walked down the street to ceremonially turn some dirt and have photos made. Actual site preparation, though, was already well under way with little trace left of the lone building that occupied the site previously.
Self-Help announced the Kent Corner project in late 2011. Some nearby residents were cool to the idea, regarding Self-Help’s plan as out of keeping with their own visions of what the area needed and/or worried about the potential effects it could have on quality of life and property values.
One adjoining property owner even carried on a bidding contest for a 0.23-acre parcel needed for the grocery store, driving the price up from $37,000 to more than $60,000 before he dropped out.
Negotiations among Self-Help, neighborhood groups and business owners went on until last July, when all the interested parties voiced support for the project at a zoning hearing.