Blue Coffee, downtown development & unequal incentives

I just sent this letter to the Durham City Council:


I read with some interest this article in the Indy this week about Blue Coffee:
In particular, my attention was captured by these paragraphs:

“It’s ironic that Blue Coffee is being displaced by the very forces it nurtured. Austin Lawrence Partners, the new owner of the former Jack Tar Motel, is renovating the building into a boutique hotel with a rooftop bar, street-level retail stores and restaurants.


It’s also ironic that the city and county awarded Austin Lawrence Partners $7.9 million in tax breaks for its City Center Project, 26-story tower at Corcoran and Main streets and the renovation of several buildings in that area, but a city grant program to help small businesses like Blue Coffee is out of money.

Mathews may have been eligible for a Retail and Professional Services Grant, but according to the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, no funds are available through that program. City Council appropriates money for it.”

Last time I emailed you all about downtown development and the character of Durham, Steve responded asking for my suggestions about how the Council could work to maintain the character that we all appreciate.

I made some general observations, and then I asked if you all had a tally of the economic incentives that had been granted to small locally-owned businesses, and whether they were in any way comparable to the huge incentive package promised to Austin Lawrence.

Judging from this quote in the Indy, it sounds like the tally wouldn’t really measure up.

So here’s my suggestion: perhaps the fund to support small locally-owned businesses could be shored up via a tax on new large-scale development, particularly of the variety where teardowns of existing buildings take place, or where zoning or other variances are granted. Or perhaps a per-space tax on new privately-owned parking structures.

Because from where I sit, right now it looks like we’re funding these large out-of-town developers on the backs of locally-owned, tax-paying small businesses. And that seems backwards to me.

Warmest regards,

Ross Grady

Blue Coffee, downtown development & unequal incentives

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