Durham News

Durham’s top stories in 2015

Here is the second of our three special year-end issues: a look back at 10 of the biggest stories in Durham of 2015. See if you agree or think we left some out. And look for our memorable photos issue Sunday. From the staff of The Durham News, thanks for reading, and our best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

Park center approved

For the past four years, Bob Geolas, Research Triangle Park Foundation president and CEO, has been tinkering with a new vision for the suburban tech and life science campus.

In September, he unveiled the ambitious plan: the creation of a 100-acre town in the heart of RTP, near N.C. 54 and Davis Drive.

The $50 million Park Center project will include a 5,000-seat amphitheater, three parks, two hotels, corporate office towers, incubator space for startups, public transit, a cinema, retail, a grocery, restaurants – and for the first time in RTP history, apartments and condominiums.

The project, which will take seven to 10 years to complete, will break ground in early 2016. The Durham County commissioners approved $20 million to help fund the project, with the project securing another $30 million of private funding.

The Park Center reflects a generational change in how people work: When RTP began in the late 1950s, a quiet, suburban environment was viewed as key to innovation. As people moved to the suburbs, RTP was also near where people lived.

But the 21st century workplace is more mobile and collaborative. And more people want to live not in suburbs, but in cities, where the downtowns have been revitalized. Park Center will essentially become downtown RTP.

“People have been hungry for a big idea,” Geolas said in September. “The park needed to rebuild.”

Correspondent Lisa Sorg

Police chief resigns

After years of controversy, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez’s tenure ran out with his forced retirement at the end of 2015.

The announcement in September marked the beginning of the end for Lopez, 61, who became the Bull City’s top cop in September 2007 after spending 23 years in Hartford, Connecticut, where he rose through the ranks to become assistant police chief.

While Lopez’s eight-year tenure was longer than most police chiefs across the nation, the last three years were marred by controversial shootings, an increasing violent crime rate and ongoing criticism from community groups asking for a major shift in the Police Department. Violent crime was up 16 percent during the first nine months of 2015, the latest figures available. As of Dec. 24, there had been 40 homicides in Durham compared to 22 in all of 2014 and 30 in 2013.

All the while, Lopez defended the Police Department and his officer’s actions and often discounted his critics. He said community members needed to step up and help police more. He attributed racial disparities to policing areas where he said more crime was happening and where police were getting more calls for service.

Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey said Lopez was a “tremendous person,” and a dedicated police chief.

But, Lopez was “at times tone-deaf to the voice of the Durham community,” she added. “That was his downfall.”

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Living wage campaign

As more people depend on jobs in the service sector, what is a service job worth?

Since its March launch, the Durham Living Wage Project has certified about 80 local business and nonprofit organizations with hundreds of employees.

The program, open to all sectors of the economy, encourages employers to pay employees up to 70 percent above the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The free certification process requires employers to pay individuals without company-provided health insurance at least $12.33 an hour, those with insurance at least $10.83 an hour, and independent contractors $14.33 an hour.

Certified companies range from Rho, a contract research organization with 375 employees to smaller companies such as Fullsteam Brewery, coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon and bakery and restaurant Monuts. Owners of participating companies said the project provided a well thought-out platform that encouraged them to evaluate their pay and benefits. It also nudged them in a direction they already intended to go as wages are one piece of the employee retention and development puzzle.

The living wage project grew out of the Durham People’s Alliance, a community and political organization that advocates for progressive solutions for issues such as environmental protection, LGBT rights and affordable housing.

The project is modeled after Just Economics of Western North Carolina, an Asheville-based membership organization.

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Downtown development

Stroll through downtown Durham, and in addition to the chatter from sidewalk cafes, you’ll hear the whirr of circular saws, the pounding of jackhammers and the scraping of dirt.

Two new hotels opened in the city center, 21c Museum Hotel at Corcoran and Main streets, and the Durham Hotel on East Chapel Hill Street. The run-down Jack Tar motel, once a classic of Mid-Century Modern architecture at Corcoran and Parrish streets, is being overhauled into a boutique hotel.

Meanwhile, the dirt is being moved around in earnest at the site of the future 27-story skyscraper at Corcoran and Main streets.

Jennings Brody of Parker and Otis, opened the gift and decor store, Chet Miller. With clothing stores Vert & Vogue and Runaway Clothes, retail, once trailing the restaurant frenzy, is now filling storefronts downtown.

Some of the progress is hidden: Off Alley 26, a small, startup office space sprung up on the site of a burned-out furniture warehouse. And Google Fiber is locating its hut in West Village, near Ramblers Beer Store, downtown’s first try at wrapping a parking garage with retail. Also in the neighborhood: the old Chesterfield cigarette factory is being redeveloped into a life sciences hub.

Cranes have become a permanent feature of the skyline over Durham Central Park, where three condo projects are either under way or due to begin in 2016.

But artists and entrepreneurs, many of them priced out of the city center, are heading to downtown’s east side. Ponysaurus, a new arts space, under construction, and Honeygirl Meadery are pioneering the area near Hood and Ramseur streets, ahead of the new police station.

That end of town includes redevelopment of two parking lots in the 300 and 500 blocks of East Main. Also, at Roxboro and Main streets, the former judicial building will get a major overhaul and include retail on the first floor.

The big question for 2016: Will the Loop become two-way?

Also worth watching: Downtown Durham, Inc. is scheduled to unveil its updated master plan early next year.

Correspondent Lisa Sorg

Rise of adjuncts

Almost half of all teaching positions at Duke University are non-tenure track — adjunct professors, lecturers and professors of practice who often work on one-year contracts with little job security. This instability extends to their health insurance benefits, retirement plans, disciplinary actions and representation on the Academic Council.

Last fall, Duke Teaching First began forming a union, with the help of Service Employees International Faculty Forward, to advocate for a group of non-tenure track professors and instructors.

University administrators responded with an online counterpoint, Duke One-to-One, to dissuade this class of workers from unionization and collective bargaining. Duke Teaching First then marked up the rebuttal, as if it were a paper to be graded, pointing out its inaccuracies.

Nationwide, North Carolina has the lowest rate of union membership, with less than 2 percent of the workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, BLS numbers show that unionized workers earn on average 19 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts. The pay disparity is even greater for women and minorities.

Correspondent Lisa Sorg

Duke wins fifth NCAA championship

Duke’s basketball team clearly likes Indianapolis.

Led by one-and-doners Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils won their fifth NCAA men’s basketball championships with a 68-63 defeat of Wisconsin on April 6 in Indianapolis.

Duke also won the NCAA championship in Indianapolis in 2010 and 1991.

“It was heaven,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said from the Lucas Oil Stadium floor where his teams have gone 4-0. “It was really divine.”

It also wasn’t without some controversy.

Down 48-39 with 13:23 left in the championship game, Duke used a 10-0 run to take the lead for good. Leading 63-58 with 1:53 remaining, Duke appeared to lose a ball out of bounds but was awarded possession, even after officials viewed TV replays that many observers thought showed Duke’s Justise Winslow last touching the ball.

It didn’t matter much. Okafor, a 6-11 freshman, made two straight buckets, sandwiched between a pair of 3-pointers by Jones, to help the Blue Devils (35-4) lead 66-58 with 1:22 left.

Jones led the scoring with 23 points and was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

Jones, Okafor and Winslow all were later selected by NBA teams in the first round of the league’s college draft.

Staff writer Elliott Warnock

Ghost bikes

The ongoing controversy over ghost bikes shows how passionate Durham’s cyclist community can get.

In December 2014 the city adopted a policy that states the white-painted memorial bikes on Durham rights-of-way will be removed within 45 days after someone complains.

That policy was tested when a Durham resident complained to city officials in June and July about three different ghost bikes across the city memorializing Joshua Johnson, 33, who died in August 2013; Kent Winberry, 52, who died in October 2014l and Seth Vidal, who died after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver in July 2013.

The complaints sparked a backlash from cyclists and the victims’ friends and family. In addition, two of the ghost bikes returned, placed by unknown individuals.

Supporters of the ghost bikes say one person shouldn’t have so much power and that the memorials are reminders of traffic hazards. Some critics of the bikes have said that the memorials are eyesores. Others say they shouldn’t be allowed to remain on city property in perpetuity.

City officials are now reviewing the policy and plan to discuss potential changes this year.

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

LGBTQ center opens

Members of the gay and lesbian community now have a place that they can call their own after the opening of the new LGBTQ Center of Durham in October.

The house at 114 Hunt St. is a place, supporters said, where the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community can just be themselves. It’s also one of few LGBT community centers in the state.

“The idea is that you should not have to hide who you are in our building,” said Helena Cragg, the center’s board chair.

It opened as a space where members of the LGBTQ community can gather, read or check out books from its library or explore resources, also available online, to help find anything from wedding planners to therapists.

Cragg envisions a place where people might to have a watercolor class, a Meetup group or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“The idea being is we as a community are no one monolithic thing,” she said. “But what the center can provide is a place where you can be your whole self.”

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Jail ‘lockback’

Sheriff Mike Andrews said Durham County jail inmates were restricted to their cells – except for two hours every other day – following a rise in violence and threats at the facility.

The shift, however, resulted in increased media and other scrutiny and a spotlight on ongoing protests about jail conditions.

Until March, inmates had been allowed out of their cells 10 hours a day. During that time they had access to a day room, a recreation yard, phones and showers.

In March, inmates’ time outside their cells was cut back to two hours every other day, a big reduction but still twice what state law requires: one hour, three days a week.

In May, jail officials increased the amount of time inmates were let out to two hours seven days a week.

By August, the time had been increased to four hours a day.

As of Oct. 1, general population inmates, mainly people awaiting trial, may use common and recreation areas eight hours a day.

Meanwhile, the Inside-Outside Alliance, a group of family members and advocates that brought attention to the “lockback,” continues to protest conditions at the jail.

Staff writer Virginia Bridges

Nasher turns 10

It is fitting that “The Forest: Politics, Poetics, and Practice,” a collection of contemporary drawings, sculpture, prints, video and film, was the inaugural exhibit of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

That was 10 years ago, when, couched in a quiet, wooded area where Central Campus meets West, the Nasher began its first decade of groundbreaking exhibits and installations.

In addition to its permanent collection of 10,000 works, including Pre-Columbian, Asian and African art, the Nasher has featured innovative exhibits seldom seen outside of large metropolitan museums: work by The Vorticists, a modernist movement in World War I; paintings by African-American artist Barkley Hendricks, an installation exploring sexuality in art, plus cartography, caricature and film.

Music has also been central to the museum: “The Record” elevated vinyl to works of art, while “The Jazz Loft Project: W. Eugene Smith in New York City, 1957-1965,” featured photographs and audio recordings of a pivotal time in the genre’s history.

Next year, the Nasher starts its second decade with contemporary art from a region of great cultural and ethnic change: the American South.

Correspondent Lisa Sorg