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Durham Businesses Fed Up With Politics Over American Tobacco Project

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DURHAM, N.C. — Some downtown Durham business owners are tired of talk. They want city and county leaders to move forward with the American Tobacco Project.

John Warasila is in the business of designing buildings, but now he is making it his business to make sure the American Tobacco Project gets off the ground.

"I think it's like a lot of people said, 'It's a great opportunity. Don't blow it,'" he said.

The American Tobacco campus would be used for offices, shops and restaurants. The project has plans for a 3,000-space parking deck, as well.

In the last few weeks, city and county leaders have been at odds over parking issues with the American Tobacco Project being developed by WRAL's parent company, Capitol Broadcasting. City and county leaders spent most of Thursday trying to figure out a compromise. Now, several business owners in the Bull City have started a letter-writing campaign.

"Basically, we tried to tell everyone we're disappointed by the impasse and they need to figure out a way to make it happen," Warasila said.

"This is a great project. It takes a little boldness and vision," business owner Alice Sharpe said.

With so many boarded-up buildings and empty storefronts downtown, many believe the American Tobacco Project would serve as a catalyst for other ventures.

"It's a great image enhancer that Durham can move forward with a project of this magnitude," Sharpe said.

City Manager Marcia Conner said she worries developers are keeping a close eye on the American Tobacco Project.

"Anybody else we're in negotiations with, I think it raises a red flag for them, some area of concern in terms of our overall commitment in terms of investment in downtown," she said.

Conner said since the project is so big, it is critical city and county leaders move cautiously.

"I think if everyone is patient with us, I believe we can come up with something everyone agrees with," she said.

Officials said there is now a new deal on the table regarding the parking decks. The county manager will take it to the commissioners, and depending on how that goes, the plan could be made public Monday night.

Another renovation project got the green light from the City Council on Thursday.

Durham's Housing Authority can go ahead with plans to renovate the old Golden Belt site off Main Street. The Authority is considering moving its headquarters to the old warehouse. If all goes according to plan, they could move in by 2004.

Another project on the other side of town is waiting to get its approval. The City Council is considering rezoning the property at the Heart of Durham hotel. If they do, a developer would build more than 400 apartments and 40 townhouses. In addition, 27-story twin towers for retail may also get built on the land.

Council members are set to vote on that proejct at their next City Council meeting.


Julia Lewis, Reporter
Don Ingle, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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