Monday, February 28, 2011

A More Nuanced System For Restaurant Inspections

An article in the Herald-Sun on Sunday about a restaurant in Cary, North Carolina receiving an “A” inspection rating despite several serious violations including roaches reminded me of an excellent blog I read back in January.

FiveThirtyEight blogger Brian J. McCabe noted that the new rating system in New York City is still “too coarse because it masks wide variations in the quality of restaurants receiving the same grade.”moulded-letter-a-orange

His analysis of inspection data during the first five months of implementation during which time half of NYC’s 24,000 restaurants were inspected, concluded that “when you visit an A-rated restaurant, the odds are that it barely made the grade.”

To address the fact that not all A ratings are equal, McCabe suggests that communities shift from a three-grade system to a more familiar academic scale with A+, A, A- and similarly for B and C.

He notes that the more “nuanced grade system for restaurant inspections would provide far more precise information for consumers.”

For any government-hater who wonders why this matters, the Department of Health in NYC estimates that tainted restaurant food accounts for more than 10,000 visits to the emergency room and 5,000 hospitalizations a year.

Oh but I forget, a government-hater would blame the inspector or question the need for inspections all together.

McCabe’s full post is well worth a read and should be circulating through health departments and the NC General Assembly.

Click here for Durham restaurant ratings or change the county to bring up health inspection information on any restaurant in North Carolina.  Click here for a complete list of Durham restaurants by district.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Durham’s NoCO District – Emblematic of Revitalization through “Small Room Gardening”

It is getting better but many economic developers, including those with my background in visitor-centric economic and cultural development, seem more than a little “macho-man,” maybe even chauvinistic.   And I hope it doesn’t take one to know one!

So a decade ago when Richard Florida first began to publish his data analysis on the bellwether “creative class,” (formerly known as knowledge workers or people who “think” for a living) it wasn’t surprising when many economic developers, addicted to “big game hunting,” either blew his work off as a fad or more often perverted the nomenclature to justify anything they happened to be doing.

Just as quickly though, more savvy economic developers coined the term “economic gardening” based on Florida’s data to describe a far better way to appeal to the Creative Class than the traditional “big-game” hunting approach with its over-reliance on huge incentives and mega cultural and sports facilities and events.

As you can imagine, “gardening” just didn’t jive with the macho mindset of many and while it is easy to quibble with
Florida, his findings have proven dead on over the years. Today he is even featured in mainstream media frequented by the macho-prone such as the ESPN Radio talk show The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

Cowherd loves to antagonize listeners by belittling college basketball as being small town and rural while the NBA is about big cities, diversity and tattoos but I’ll save that for another blog.  I just hope he actually reads Florida’s books, especially the part about the turn-off of “generica.”

After reading Florida and studying his data beginning a decade ago, I could immediately identify examples in Durham that were, from what I was hearing from newcomers and relocating executives, already making the community a center of creativity.

Maybe it resonated more deeply with me than others not only because I actually read and studied his books but because his remedies dovetailed nicely with Durham’s strategic focus on “placed-based assets” and inherent Durham brand values like “genuine, textured and authentic.”

Florida’s data signaled to communities that while the creative class “occasionally,” to use his words, attends “big-ticket” sports or cultural events, to be compelling as a place to live, work or visit, “street-culture” is the essential ingredient.

Creatives are drawn to districts that while not world-class or major league are “indigenous,” “organic,” “eclectic,” “social and interactive,” and offer a “multidimensional” “smorgasbord,” allowing people to “modulate the level and intensity” of their experience compared to “a single, one-dimensional experience that consumes a lot of recreational resources,” again to use his words.

All I had to do ten years ago was look at the organic and eclectic nature of districts like Brightleaf, Ninth Street and just-emerging Rockwood as perfect examples of just what Florida meant.

Just as I was leaving on my most recent cross country trip, journalist and historian Jim Wise chronicled the emergence of another indigenous Durham district that fits the definition, NoCO for (north of Corporation Street.) anchored by the City’s now restored Historic Durham Athletic Park, made famous in the movie Bull Durham and operated as a training center by Minor League Baseball.

To me developer Bob Chapman, as unpretentious as Durham itself, is the unofficial mayor of NoCO and George Davis of Stone Bros. & Byrd is the elder statesman of what plow-to-pint Fullsteam’s co-founder Sean Lilly Wilson coined as the “do-it-yourself” district.

Even the nickname is organic.

NoCo is home to an experimental theater, a historic country store/garden center, a sculpture gallery, a rocking nightclub, a micro-brewery and tavern, a beloved corner hamburger stand, event space, an after-school studio for teens, residential lofts, a tuition-free public charter school and much more.

It also features two tiny, historic, corner gas stations which Chapman has restored and adapted for a restaurant and yoga studio. 

Hopefully, Durham will see more organic districts emerge in the City Center, East Durham and other parts of the community.  I say emerge because these districts can’t be master planned.

Try as they may, massive, heavily packaged, single-owner districts are no substitute and the magic of indigenous, organic, small room districts cannot simply be bottled and then replicated into what Florida terms “generic,” “heavily programmed,” “Disneyland facsimiles,” “safe, secure and predictable.”

Durham is fortunate to have many good developers like Chapman who “get it” and even its mega-malls and master-planned districts do a good job of trying hard to reflect the community sense of place.

We’re also fortunate that the City, County, Downtown Durham Inc, and Durham Chamber have worked just as hard to facilitate both organic districts, although at much less expense and with much less certainty and control (e.g. Durham Central Park anchored by the Durham Farmers Market,) as they have to enable excellent master-planned districts like American Tobacco, West Village and The Streets at Southpoint.

Durham is also fortunate that DCVB, as the agency for marketing the community as a whole, has always been able to weave both types of districts into Durham’s story in such a way as to drive the demand that helps make them sustainable.

But the eclectic, organic districts are what make Durham, Durham and they foster the unique sense of place that enables mega-districts where newer facilities seek to emulate the look and feel of these more humble but equally significant areas of Durham.

You’ll spot new ones as they emerge because again in Florida’s words, they “cluster along certain streets lined with a multitude of small venues. These may include coffee shops, restaurants and bars, some of which offer performance or exhibits along with food and drink; art galleries; bookstores and other stores.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A More Southerly Route

I had all the best intentions of being more polite this time by alerting readers that I was going on another cross-country road trip.  I even intended to blog occasionally from the road but it turns out these trips are best for reflection, thinking, listening and observing.

Mugsy, my 3-year-old English Bulldog and I traveled another 6,000 miles and took five days longer than we did on the October trip.  In addition to checking in with family again, my goal on this trip was to try and figure out if, how and when to split my blog into three separate but sometimes related blogs.Mugs Riding Shotgun Cross Country February 2011

Many of you read because of my Durham connection, others for family history, some for political commentary and still others for observations about best practices in community/destination marketing including some that are test segments for a book.

I write the blog for myself, but I do understand from comments many of you have shared that I could make it easier for those who follow my diverse mutterings.  At this point I’m still reflecting and cogitating; final decision TBD!

Mugs and I took a more southerly route this time taking in less-traveled parts of Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Missouri and got a better view of some parts of several other states that we traveled through at night during our October trip.

We had a general idea of the route but many parts were spontaneous, such as cutting north into the mountains through Santa Fe and across the Durango/Telluride corner of Colorado and up through the red-rock arches of southeastern Utah.

We stopped more often this time but rarely settled on where until late each day.  Thanks to a website for Pet Friendly Hotels we were able to find a wide range of lodging choices in nearly every state and location.

Seven fresh memories of the trip:

  • How much more billboard-free and view-friendly the Interstates are through nearly every state compared to how they are through North Carolina.


  • Nearly every day was sunny and snow-free except for getting caught by 18 inches on the far side of Oklahoma City, a short stretch through the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon and a white knuckle stretch in Wyoming from Rock Springs up over the pass to Laramie.


  • You can’t see your grandsons too often, especially when you travel with a celebrity like Mugsy and pull up to their elementary school in a black Jeep.


  • My Sisters and Mom laugh a lot, my dog snuggles and nuzzles a lot and my Daughter never ceases to amaze me.


  • It can be much warmer on the tops of mountains than it is across the Great Plains.


  • Kansas City needs to send updated maps to all GPS navigation systems.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Taking Perks And Comps from Special Interests Is Still Disturbingly Far Too Common -

Within earshot of a City official, a friend with ties to public sector funding was overheard to boastfully lament his imminent loss of special perks from Marriott hotels and resorts now that the City and County of Durham are moving to a separate operator for the Durham Convention Center rather than continue to use the owner of an adjacent hotel flagged as a Marriott.Capture

Just hubris or failed humor or naiveté?

Maybe but I fear not and I fear this practice and way of thinking are also still far too prevalent among way too many others involved with organizations like convention and visitor bureaus, economic development corporations, chambers of commerce and downtown redevelopment organizations.

It is a serious ethical dilemma and slippery slope for individuals representing communities in any capacity -- public or private, non-profit or governmental, contract agency or consultant -- to accept, let alone seek, special treatment from special interests.

When I began my career in community-destination marketing in the early ‘70s, the practice of seeking or accepting airline tickets or hotel rooms for personal use was very common.  It mimicked the practice common among hoteliers and airline executives to seek discounts, or comps as they were called, from one another so why shouldn’t people working to build the destinations from which these companies harvest their share of business do the same?

Sometimes the perks were offered rather than pursued, but the transactions all had something in common – a quid pro quo that was rarely apparent but believe me, always existed.

It felt awkward to me and more than a bit slimy, so even before codes of ethics became part of accreditation for community-destination marketing organizations, I steered clear of the practice  decades ago and embedded prohibitions in the codes of ethics I had signed by each and every staff member in the organizations I led.

Soon fter start-up, two decades ago, DCVB’s governing authority also adopted a similar prohibition with a code of ethics signed by its members.

I developed a reputation so by the time I retired I rarely would get a call or email from a peer or an acquaintance or an elected official from another community or a travel writer or a meeting planner or a university official asking if I could get them a discount or a comp.

Sadly though, you would be astonished how many public, private and non-profit organizations don’t have a code of ethical behavior for management, staff and board members or fail to include specifics about resisting special interests.

What does it matter?   If you need to ask that, you’re a problem to your organization and your community.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

How “Fort Worth” Stole The Show Without Selling Its Soul!

Fort Worth and Durham have a lot in common and it isn’t bull.

While Durham is known as the “Bull City,” it isn’t because prize-winning bulls were indeed bred here at one time nor is it because the a research station for cattle is based in North Durham.

Durham’s legacy moniker is because “Bull Durham” tobacco originated here late in the century before last and the nickname, while it is no longer associated with that product, still fits.Capture

It is Fort Worth that has a more direct claim to livestock in its heritage but both communities have a great deal in common.

  • Durham and Fort Worth each co-anchor poly-centric regions where there is no dominant city at the center.


  • Durham and Fort Worth each co-own major airports often confused as the name of a city and the identities of both communities are undermined by “hyphenation.”


  • Durham and Fort Worth value being unpretentious and have proudly anchored their present with a faith in being historic, genuine and authentic while others have sold their soul to be “slick and big.”


  • And apparently both communities understand that economic development is more important than “big game hunting.”

While Dallas pretends to host the Super Bowl and actual-host Arlington hopes to recoup a fraction of return on some of the more than $300 million in resident- and visitor-taxpayer-backed bonds it put up toward a new billion dollar stadium where the game takes place, it is Fort Worth that truly grasps that even without storms, mega-events like the Super Bowl are big “media events” at best while “super hyperbole” in terms of economic impact.

Two years ago, Fort Worth very quietly and successfully out hustled and out maneuvered others to be the host for all ESPN radio and television coverage for the weeks leading up to the event.

So for two weeks, 24/7 on broadcast, cable, FM, AM and Satellite, scores of shows and program hosts have repeated heralded Fort Worth…not Dallas, not Dallas-Fort Worth, just FORT WORTH!

While the sheer size of the event, even without disruptive weather events, has been shown to displace as much or more than it adds to the net economies of the communities or nearby communities where it is held…Fort Worth has cashed in on the true value of the Super Bowl as a media event.

Sheer repetition of the name Fort Worth along with descriptive commentary about the community by on-air talent lauding the iconic character and identity of the community will lower the barriers that organizations like Fort Worth’s official community-marketing organization will face as it tells the community’s story and harvests interest in that community’s brand for many years to come.

Downtown’s Eyes Turned 85 This Week!

This week the soulful eyes of Downtown Durham turned 85 years old.

It was February 2, 1926 when The Carolina Theatre opened as the $250,000 Durham Auditorium and hosted famed Will Rogers that first year and the symbolically-even-more-famed African-American contralto opera singer Marian Anderson the next.

When it opened, the facility was the first theater in Durham to admit African-Americans, though through separate doors and with separate seating, but Ms Anderson performed to a diverse audience that is characteristic of Durham and in 1963 it became fully integrated.

I wonder if The Carolina was the Durham venue in which Sam Cooke performed earlier that same year when he was inspired to pen the Civil Rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” after talking with demonstrators on his way back to his bus.Capture

In today’s afterglow of Billy Elliot and Lion King, we forget that it was The Carolina that first brought Broadway to Durham with the original cast tour of Oklahoma.

In my time in Durham, The Carolina has always seemed modest and unpretentious and very genuine - all personality characteristics of the community. She hasn’t ever thrown her weight around or petulantly demanded and maneuvered to be the center of attention as some seem to be doing today behind the scenes.

She has been no stranger to controversy and often the victim of neglect until her restoration and reopening in 1994. We forget, as we marvel today at each Durham accolade, that in a little over six years after re-opening back then The Carolina hosted 1,000,000 guests, 70% of them visitors.

One of my personal measures when I came here more than two decades ago to help jump-start, along with others, the community's first official marketing organization, was to promote and defend Durham in a way that would meet the approval of those natives who had witnessed eight or nine decades of her existence.

I’m certain that given time, like The Carolina, some of Durham’s newer assets will also become “place-based” assets, the “built, cultural and natural” elements that give Durham its distinct character and appeal compared to places in general.

Until such time, when The Carolina will probably be nearing the century mark, we know she’ll be watching with soulful eyes.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Communities Pursue Mega-Events For The Same Reasons There Are So Many “R” Rated Movies!

Why is it that 13 times as many “R” rated movies are made each year as there are “G” rated?

It isn’t about money. On average “G” rated movies rake in $47.6 million more per movie that “R” rated films according to recent studies both at Brigham Young University and the Dove Foundation.

In my opinion, the reason more “R” rated films are made, even though they make less money for investors, may have far more to do with ego and hubris.Capture

It is the same reason some community-destination marketing organizations persuade or enable their respective communities to build mega-venues typically to host events requiring more in subsidies than the community reaps in tax revenue.

Or maybe in some cases, it is that DMOs fail to dissuade their communities and/or elected officials from falling under the spell of “big game hunters” for whom no mega-event is mega-enough.

Maybe it’s news reporters and editors who, if aware at all, find it just too complex to explain to residents in these communities that the more mega an event is in size, the more negligible the economic impact becomes.

Others, I’m sure, get caught up in the hype often steam-rolled by media business management because, well, mega-events are huge money makers for news media organizations.

Mega-events have long been shown to render even otherwise reliable input-output analysis ineffective because such events displace or disrupt normal economic patterns.

If aware, this hasn’t inhibited communities from using the data while making sure to never reveal that the events, while good for hotels, don’t live up to expectations for other types of businesses because they displace as much spending by residents and other types of visitors as they generate.

Post-event analysis has even long ago dispelled the notion that mega-sports or political events generate awareness for the host communities.

There are very astute communities, sometimes led by persistent destination marketing organizations, that have exceeded market-share and made out like bandits by precisely avoiding mega-events and, instead, going after events large and small that are more about impact than ego.

My adopted home, Durham North Carolina, is one of these but it isn’t immune.

These are the same communities that would be producing “G” rated films if they were in the movie business because they don’t let their egos or the egos of “big game hunters” distract them from the bottom-line.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Dysfunctional "Paperclip" Governance Got Us Into This Mess

I wasn’t surprised when a recently released Congressional report on the economic meltdown blamed government regulators.  After all we’re a society that blames police for criminals, teachers for poor parenting and health inspectors for contaminated food.Capture

Maybe the only way we can truly fix government is to deconstruct it and then reconstruct it.  I know, except for the “reconstruct” part, I almost sounded libertarian.

Regulation of banks and oil drilling are good examples.  We had it in place already but from the beginning it was compromised by, well, compromise.  Then one side immediately starts to compromise it further, whenever they are in power, with inadequate funding or tying the hands of regulators or antiquated technology.

Then something blows up in our face and we go about finger-pointing as though we had a fully functioning regulatory apparatus in place and it failed when in reality, it isn’t funded to do the job, lacks the expertise and technology.

This is how we end up with government agencies that are dysfunctional, making government always the easy scapegoat.

That’s why the tax code must be scrapped and rebuilt…not just overhauled.  It worked in theory.  But Congress never did apply it universally or evenly and immediately riddled it with exemptions and loopholes and voila.

Our Congress needs what every true board of directors needs to be functional: people who know the difference between “paperclips” and “policy.”

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Live Music Concerts Aging Out

The decade just ended was positive for the live music industry but predictions by Deloitte Touche Tohamtsu Ltd. raise concerns about the current decade (page 30 of the report linked here.)Capture

Eight of the twenty top grossing acts in 2011 have lead singers who are 60 years of age or older and attendance fell 17% during the first half of last year.

Nearly 60% of the top 20 grossing acts have lead singers who are 50 years of age or older (click chart to enlarge.)

Attendance for performing arts in general has been in decline and, over a period of almost thirty years it has continued to age faster than the general adult population. Only musicals have held even since 2002 after dramatically declining in attendance since the mid-1990s.

Disguised by venue reporting of overall attendance is the fact that they include vast numbers of repeat attendees while the percentage of American adults attending at least one arts activity a year isn’t keeping pace with population and has dropped to 1 in 3.

This includes 4.5% of travelers who attend concerts or plays during overnight trips or daytrip excursions and the two-thirds of one percent who cite them as the main reason for travel.

The aging of acts in the live music industry is reflective of upheaval in the way Americans consume music and the fact that the spending by labels on new artist development has dramatically declined.

It appears communities will need to be even more judicious than ever to not only avoid overbuilding venues or cannibalizing existing venues with new ones but because the window for optimal venue performance will cover even less of the life-cycle for the typical venue.

And both venue performance and life-cycle will become more sensitive to churn created when newer facilities emerge in nearby communities.

Community-destination marketing organizations will need to carefully calibrate promotions based on diminished returns on investment while seeking to maintain fair market share.

The good news for consumers is the devolution apparent even today in the re-emergence of the role of small clubs in artist self-development and the street-life they generate for communities.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Chesterfield Seizes An Opportunity That West Village and American Tobacco Didn’t

The folks developing that latest remnant of Durham’s tobacco past are brilliant to build on the “brand” associated with the building, “Chesterfield,” rather than the name of the company that formerly owned it.Capture

They didn’t miss much but I agree with the many who are disappointed that the otherwise very successful American Tobacco Campus missed the boat when it wasn’t named “Old Bull” or “Lucky Strike,” the famous brands associated with those old factories.

To their credit and at great expense, a water tower and the 180’ chimney with their famous “Lucky Strike” logos were retained, so to give the benefit of the doubt, there may have been other issues involved with adopting that brand as the name for the complex.

However, “Old Bull” should have been easy to use, it was the historic name of one of the buildings.

So even more disappointing was the successful lobby, without much public input, that subsequently steamrolled objections by the few who knew it was happening and switched the the name of that entire district of Downtown Durham from the “Old Bull District” to “American Tobacco.”

American Tobacco is the name of a now defunct company that departed Durham in 1987, opening the way for developers to emulate the Historic Brightleaf Square, which was by then already an acclaimed adaptive-reuse of old tobacco warehouses into shops, restaurants and offices.

Bright Leaf is the name of the curing process for the tobacco leaves that Yankee cavalry who were bivouacked here during the negotiations in Durham that effectively ended the Civil War, found so flavorful that they mailed to order more when they got home.

As steeped as the name American Tobacco is in Durham history, the brands manufactured in the old factories owned by the company are far more catchy, popular and better known than the name of the company. “Lucky Strike” and “Old Bull,” short for the original Bull Durham brand, resonate as Americana.

The people at the former American Tobacco Company were genius pioneers in brand marketing and they would have been proud that the fame of the “brand” names far outlive the name of the company or its products.

Even though the timing of the downturn is taking a toll, the name West Village appears here to stay. It is better than naming that complex of old tobacco factories after one of the former corporations that owned it, but the folks now developing the so-called “New Cigarette Factory” portion (constructed in 1948,) are very smart to use the brand name manufactured there, “Chesterfield.”

Company names and the products they produce rarely have the staying power in the consciousness of Americans that the brand names they produced have, unless they are the same.

That’s why Ford and Chevy are indelible in the minds of Americans compared to General Motors. John Deere is stronger than International Harvester and the brand “Jeep” transcends the litany of manufactures over the years such as Willys, AMC or Chrysler/Fiat?

Best wishes to the Chesterfield folks. Who knows, maybe it will become the namesake for the now non-descript “Warehouse District.”