The “Crown Park Hotel” may be renovated

In yet another sign of the bonkers real estate market in Durham, even this horrible thing is going to be renovated and re-opened as a hotel called “Graduate Durham.”

The structure variously known as “The Crown Park Hotel” or “Duke Studio Condominiums” has, as long as I’ve lived in Durham, basically been abandoned. At one point its owner promised “luxury condominiums” for a princely sum of about $75000, but I don’t suppose he had many takers since the building was sold for $4.7M to a national hotel chain in 2008. That’s right about when the real estate market disintegrated, and its owners just sat on the property until now, a decision which seems to have paid off: according to the Herald, they just made a tidy profit by flipping it for a cool $7.6M.

Long time readers may know that I appreciate a degree of architectural diversity even when it comes to, let’s say, less popular styles, but there’s not much going for 600 Willard St., which is a stark, looming hulk of a building hugely set back from Duke St. and isolated from Willard by surface parking and uninspired landscaping. Environmentally speaking, saving the building is of course preferable to demolition, but I can’t help but be a bit disappointed that this structure will continue to dominate this entryway to the ATC and downtown for the forseeable future.

One can get a not-so-subtle hint of the target demographic for the renovated hotel from its name, but lest there be any confusion, here’s some copy from the chain’s web site:

We’re glad you came to stay after school. Graduate Hotels — where smart never goes out of style.

“Graduate Durham” will match the chain’s “signature design aesthetic” which, as far as I can tell, seems to be “find a building and market it to a local university.” This strikes me as a curious marketing angle considering how close the hotel is to the ATC and downtown.

As a broader observation, it sure seems like a lot of out of state investors think that Durham is just a university town, and they end up branding and marketing their properties specifically towards university students (see e.g. 605 West). Duke and Central are obviously crucial to the economy, but their student populations aren’t that large, and the recent real estate boom obviously hasn’t been triggered by some sudden influx of students. It’s odd to see such a large percentage of new development being marketed towards a relatively small group.

The Business 15-501 road diet faces opposition from some business owners

I mentioned this road diet before, which would reduce Business 15-501 around Foster’s and Guglhupf down to a much more manageable three-lane road with bike lanes, street parking, and even sidewalks (sidewalks? In Durham?). The city has an excellent page describing the project.

Although the plan is broadly supported by residents, word has it that some business owners aren’t so happy with the proposed changes.

I don’t know which business owners they are, but whoever you are: what’s up with you?

Studies have shown that this kind of streetscape improvement increases revenues of nearby businesses. Not only are people more likely to visit establishments when they have additional ways to physically get to them, but more pedestrians means more walk-in business to boot.

Not to mention: have you ever tried to find a parking spot around Nanataco and the Q Shack at like, 12:15 p.m. on a Friday? Street parking seems like it would be a welcome addition as spaces can be pretty scarce around here.

Due to the opposition to the project, it’s going to be up for review at the City Council work session tomorrow (May 21st) at 1pm. If you have an interest in improving this road, you might want to show up and make your opinion heard.

The city has revealed several options for the DPD HQ site layout

Over at the city’s web page devoted to the DPD HQ project, you can now find a link to an inexplicably massive PDF which shows off several potential site plans.

Here, I shrunk it down for you:

The light blue shaded area in the graphics would be up for grabs, with the city selling it off for potential commercial use.

I’m not especially inspired by any of these site plans, although I think there are some good elements here. Most notably both 2 and 3 retain the Carpenter Motor Company building that’s currently on Walker and Elizabeth Street (that block of Walker would disappear under all of these plans). If I understand it correctly, in 3) the existing structure would actually be integrated into the new construction (a la the old Watts Hospital into the Residence Inn on Main St) while in 2) it would remain free standing.

If you weren’t able to attend the meeting, you can still submit comments regarding the site plan until May 20 electronically, using this handy (and thankfully not quite as massive) PDF.

The $375,000 Watts-Hillandale teardown highlights how insane the real estate market is right now

The Indy has an article about 2308 West Club Blvd, a property on which currently sits a 1400 square foot bungalow. The owners plan to tear it down.

Upon first hearing about this story I was wondering if we’d see a Durham version of the hilariously controversial Oakwood modern home in Raleigh, but the proposed structure on Club doesn’t seem to be architectually interesting at all. In fact, the plans indicate a completely generic, two story suburban house (I don’t know what you’d even call this style of architecture; maybe “bland”).

The reality, though, is that any new development here would piss people off, because some folks are attached to the existing 1920’s era bungalow. Some WHH residents and Preservation Durham criticized the plans, noting that the current house is a “contributing structure” to the character of the neighborhood.

According to WRAL, Durham’s Historic Preservation Commission has approved the plans to demolish the house, albeit with the maximum delay of 365 days. I’m not even sure I understand what “approved” means in this context; my understanding is that there was no way to block demolition, so maybe it was just a pro forma procedure.

This is where I tell you what I think.

First: there are hundreds if not thousands of similar bunagloes in Durham (heck, I live in one). They’re cool and all, and it’s true that each one has its own quirks and character, but I’d hardly consider such bungalows integral to any neighborhood. There are real advantages to modern construction and it’s understandable that the owners would want to take advantage of them.

Second: but… $375,000 for a teardown? Are you kidding me? I know everybody loves WHH, but that’s a boatload to shell out for a parcel of land with negative value sitting on it (seeing as how they have to pay to get rid of the old house). The lot is larger than typical, though, so at least they’ll have a big yard.

Third: Man, if you’re going to piss people off by tearing down an old house, you might as well create something interesting in its place. The Oakwood house became kind of epic and it’s a landmark in its own right now. I’d put something sweet on Club, not just some generic cut ‘n paste job.

I do wonder if this could be a sign of things to come. The one year delay is certainly inconvenient, and it might give some developers pause, but if developers think there’s money to be made by tearing down well maintained old houses and putting up new ones, it’s going to start happening more often. Losing a few bungalows may not be a big deal, but in thoroughly gentrified areas like WHH, they could start losing more than just a few.

It’s bike month!

Once again Durham has quite a few events planned to celebrate bike month (don’t let the hail and rain scare you off, I’m sure the weather will get better). According to a press release sent out by Durham’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Dale McKeel:

Bike Month will be celebrated in Durham throughout the month of May. Through group rides, cyclist socials, giveaways, workshops, and other events, Bike Month provides opportunities for all Durhamites to learn more about safely bicycling in their community.

The first event is called the “Bull City Bike Fest,” which is going to be tomorrow (Saturday, May 2) at Solite park, running from 9 a.m. to noon. According to Dale’s email:

Activities include pump track demos, rides on the ATT with the Duke and UNC cycling teams, a Kids Parade (open to the public), Gateway Trail rides and pump track challenges.  Information booths will be present from many local cycling groups.

There’s a full list of the upcoming events over at bikedurham.org.

Protests are planned near the ATC on May 1

This one’s been making the rounds:

MEET AT THE POLICE HQ ON CHAPEL HILL RD. AT 5PM FOR A SHORT RALLY AND THEN MARCH TO THE JAIL ON S. MANGUM IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE ONGOING DEMONSTRATIONS TO END THE PRISONER LOCK-BACK.

I think they mean West Chapel Hill Street, not Chapel Hill Road. A common mistake, of course, given how many roads in Durham are named after Chapel Hill.

I’m not sure what to expect from this particular group, which goes by the name “Durham Solidarity Center.” Some of their FB comments state that this isn’t to be a destructive protest:

We are coding this action as a “yellow” action, meaning there may be some civil disobedience taking place that WILL NOT involve destruction of property. In line with our principles of unity, we ask that anyone wishing to express their solidarity with Baltimore using different tactics of direct action to choose a different TIME or PLACE.

There have been some social media interactions between this group, the UNC Anarchists, and prisonbooks.info in the past, and protests publicised by those other groups have sometimes resulted in property damage. Anarchists, as you may know, aren’t the best at following rules, so it’s hard to guess whether they’ll respect a request to avoid destroying things if they show up.

As of the time of this post there are 443 people who have confirmed attendence at the FB event, so this could be pretty big.

DPD, city sued by man claiming racial profiling

According to WRAL:

Ragland claims officers searched him and his vehicle in 2012 without his consent and without probable cause.

Ragland is asking for unspecified financial damages, for the department to change how it conducts traffic stops, to appoint a “special master” to oversee changes in police procedures, and to implement changes including eliminating “suspicionless” traffic stops and requiring officers to document in writing the purpose of their traffic stop before searching a vehicle.

The suit was brought by the NCCU Civil Litigation Clinic, which I assume means that NCCU law students will be working on the case. The supervising attorney is Scott Holmes, a faculty member at NCCU, and apparently also a ballet dancer (yanno, I feel like a ballet dancing attorney could be a decent concept for a superhero…).

It’s worth pointing out that the events in question allegedly occured in 2012; in the interim, the city has already issued some fairly strong responses to racial bias in the DPD (including requesting assistance from the DoJ).