Monday, September 16, 2013

North Carolina Transformation Falls In Place – Part 3 of 3

In the third part of a series about the mid-century transformation of Durham and North Carolina, we pick up as the private sector approach to executing Dr. Howard W. Odum’s vision for a research park was stalling.

Durham officials had been simultaneously and vigorously pursuing another more hybrid approach to economically transforming North Carolina.

T.Y. Milburn had been busy persuading his late Durham friend’s successor, Governor Luther Hodges, that the state needed to take an extremely active role if the research park was to become reality.

Hodges who had been part of Umstead’s administration before he died, agreed.

Durham banker George Watts Hill was also busy with a group persuading the three universities – Duke in Durham, UNC in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh – to co-found the Research Triangle Institute.

Some local Raleigh interests were hardest to enlist.

Fearing a few years earlier that they would lose out based on location, development and media interests there had poisoned regional relations by going Durham’s back to arbitrarily finagle an unorthodox and non-alphabetic reversal of order for the names for the jointly-owned airport.

Media interests did something similar to the order of names in the newly established multi-county designation TV viewing area (today called a Designated Market Area or DMA,) while artificially inflating it be larger in scope than much larger areas such as Charlotte, Baltimore, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

Trust had been poisoned but always more confident and self-assured back then, Durham officials were unpretentiously hard at work figuring out how to run water and sewer utilities to the Park.

Dr. George Simpson Jr., a 34-year-old war veteran and disciple who had worked with Professor Odum on the Park concept who was subsequently hired to lead it, and in part to sell the public-private approach, and soon wrote:

"Durham’s citizens have moved the Park forward with vision, leadership, and support…Other partners have been important…but the relationship with the City of Durham has always been special…"

But this was not enough to embed Durham in the Park’s narrative.  When Durham left the door open, Raleigh interests, less self-assured or as honorable as they are today, worked to divorce the Park from its Durham roots by seizing its narrative, something the architect finally admitted in the early 1990s.

They hoped to reap more relocating executives by obfuscating the Park’s location.  For more than 30 years this worked because whenever an attempt was made by Park officials to clarify, it was met with a veiled threat about cooperation or a condescending misuse of regionalism.

Durham, always worried about losing Raleigh support for the venture, naively placed its faith in the ability of executives to read maps in the days long before GPS made distortions by real estate developers and agents less effective.

As a result, tens of thousands of people who relocated to work in the Park ended becoming commuters, creating and fighting through unnecessarily traffic to work each day.

Even IBM was caught up in the confusion, mis-assigning “Raleigh” as the email locator for Durham-based facilities.

In time, Durham has reclaimed its story partly through formation of an organization charged with defending its identity and brand and because, well, GPS just doesn’t lie.

This in turn lowered barriers to visibility and for growth and revitalization, all without ever diminishing Raleigh.

In the end, Durham may have had the last word because while it fostered this engine for job growth throughout the region and transformation of the state, it didn’t have to shoulder all of the high costs of services that come with rampant residential growth.’

In essence, Durham was able to benefit through the years from more consistent and steady growth that has preserved its unique sense of place.

During Guest’s failed private sector attempt, Professor William Maughan, a forestry researcher who had been the inspiration for the founding of Duke’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies prior to the war, had begun helping assemble Durham pinelands for the Park.

The heirs of a Durham merchant and farmer, Atlas Monroe (A.M.) Rigsbee had sold the Park project a thousand acres of southeast Durham farm and forestland which would become the anchor needed for the Park just four miles from downtown Durham.

The Rigsbee’s owned huge swaths of farmland long prior to when Willie Carver was born in Northern Durham.  A.M.’s. land, whose store at Rigsbee and Green streets served as the first town hall, stretched more to the south and east.  His brother T.J. owned another huge swatch west and south including where Duke West Campus is today.

This land and the Park became part of a foundation that continues to transform North Carolina even today but it wasn’t alone  That WWII and Korean War bomber pilot who first plowed my street was already making Durham a name for aerospace fabrication.

Milburn passed away in 1977 as Willie Carver did the year before I arrived in Durham in 1989 to jump-start the community’s way to pursue visitor-centric economic and culture development.

But I was very fortunate that one of the first people to invite me to lunch for a briefing was George Watts Hill.

Bridging back to the Dukes, all three had all witnessed when Terry Sanford, that young senator during Umstead’s administration, emerged as governor just before the Durham Committee of 100 disbanded.

As governor, Sanford vigorously leveraged connections to further cement the success of RTP by working to bring research facilities for EPA and NEIHS there.

They had all shared Durham with Sanford when he later served as president of Duke University from 1969 to 1985.  By the time I arrived, he has become United States Senator Sanford.

Whenever in town, he would would unpretentiously sit down to eat lunch and share stories with me on the stairs outside our temporary offices in Brightleaf Square, where he kept an office.

By then, those mid-century transformative Durham visionaries had already spawned other Durham economic developers such as chamber executives Robert H. Booth and James Camp who populated RTP under contract with the county in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

They also laid the groundwork for a new demand-side economic development organization that I was brought here to lead for its first 21 years.  I noted then that Durham had been fortunate to economically transform four or five times during its history.

It was an honor to play a role in spearheading another transformation as a visitor destination which, in turn, continues to not only to bring a significant amount of non-resident tax revenue to Durham, but also helps spearhead adaptive reuse of many of its historic structures including tobacco and textile factory buildings.

But to paraphrase President Bill Clinton, none of these transformations, even some preceding those in which the Duke family participated happened through “some random evolutionary drift.”

Organizations and individuals such as those I describe above spearheaded each of these transformations.

Part 1Part 2


Chris said...

This has been an interesting history lesson for someone who moved to Durham 4 years ago.

However, I think it was more than naming the airport RDU, IBM calling their site "Raleigh," and even local politicing that caused the residential development patterns associated with RTP to gravitate towards Wake County, as you imply in this post.

I imagine that there were significant socio-economic and race issues at play, as well. I am led to believe that Durham, although at one point larger and wealthier than Raleigh, was likely seen during the first thrust of RTP development and related growth as a city with a well-established black community, whereas Raleigh/Cary and its environs were more lily white. Once these perceptions were rooted, they became until recently more self-fulfilling.

In other words, to this day, I don't think misguided realtors and misguided Wake county residents steer newcomwers away from Durham because of the name of the airport, the name of the media market, or because Wake county residential developers twisted political arms.

I feel like there is yet more to this story that is likely quite unappealing, but is worth bringing to light.

Reyn said...

I could have worded it better. No the issues around the airport name etc. were only symptomatic of efforts symbolized further by real estate interests, not the cause. Glad you liked the series.