Medium-sized American cities have many attributes that draw people to them. They also have many problems in common. Its safe to say that any city in the country would be lucky to have an advocate as tireless as Durhams Bill Kalkhof to talk up its good points and help focus efforts to deal with the bad ones.
The irrepressible Kalkhof has been the leader of non-profit Downtown Durham Inc. for a good long stretch, since 1993. Now hes announced that hell retire in April. He will be a hard act to follow.
Its almost stunning to recall the progress Durhams downtown has made in 19 years. The citys cigarette industry was in its last throes. The thought of living among those downtown streets, uncrowded in daytime and desolate at night, had little appeal.
Today, the American Tobacco complex, once abandoned, is a destination cultural and commercial center. The Durham Center for the Performing Arts is a nationally ranked success. The Durham Bulls are a fixture in their nearby ballpark. The streets have been spruced up, and downtown residents can work and recreate within walking distance of home.
Kalkhof didnt make these things happen singlehandedly, but he was right in there pushing. I believe that Im leaving a place better than I found it, he says straightforwardly. Hes not kidding. The people of Durham, and the Triangle, should be grateful.