$3 million sought for Durham renewal

Money would be for Rolling Hills

Staff WriterDecember 7, 2007 

— A piece of downtown Durham real estate with a prime location and a history of trouble is up for a new lease on life -- if the City Council agrees to a down payment of $3 million.

That is the amount the city's community development department asked permission to spend to start rebuilding the twice-failed Rolling Hills subdivision and invigorating the adjoining Southside-St. Theresa neighborhood.

The area is just south of the Durham Freeway and about a quarter-mile east of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

At a council work session Thursday, community development director Mike Barros asked the city to name McCormack Baron Salazar of St. Louis and Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse of Baltimore as developers on the project. He also asked the city to approve spending $325,000 for planning and preparatory work and $2.7 million to buy private property and move the present homeowners and tenants.

The 44 occupied residences in Rolling Hills are "in pretty sad shape," Larry Jarvis, associate community development director, said this week. Clearing is necessary, he said, "to really develop this site to its highest and best use."

The site was part of Hayti, Durham's oldest black neighborhood, and was cleared for urban renewal in the 1970s. Since 1985, according to figures compiled for the City Council last year, the city has invested almost $6.4 million to assist two private developers of Rolling Hills. Neither could complete the project, and in 2003 the city repossessed the subdivision for unpaid loans.

The prospective developers intend to create a neighborhood with a mix of low-, middle- and high-income residents, including those who already live in the area and want to stay.

Stan Mulvihill, a McCormack Baron vice president, and Sandra Moore, head of the company's community-redevelopment wing, showed the council some of their completed projects. Those include Centennial Place in Atlanta, a once-dilapidated and crime-ridden public-housing project rebuilt to includes a neighborhood school, YMCA, boys' and girls' club and residents with incomes from low poverty levels to six figures.

Council members gave the presentation and presenters a friendly reception. One member, Howard Clement, said, "This is tremendous. ... We can't afford to miss this opportunity."

Council member Diane Catotti expressed reservations about the amount of money requested, saying that it would use up the city's housing-bond income, accumulated over several years for redevelopment projects.

Council member Eugene Brown brought up the site's troubled history and the problem of convincing tax payers that putting more into the neighborhood is a good idea.

"Rolling Hills," he said. "Within our community, that is a stigma."

Moore pointed out the record of McCormack Baron Salazar, which works exclusively in inner-city settings and has completed more than $1.5 billion worth of projects in 18 states.

City Manager Patrick Baker said Durham is in a better position to monitor the project now than it had been in the past.

"There's no question we are paying the price for the failures of the past," Baker said. "If we had a quality group at the outset ... we wouldn't be here today."

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2408

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