Local News

Durham Fighting To Protect Image

Posted October 7, 2004 10:57 a.m. EDT

— While some sections of Durham are getting a facelift and other areas are digging in for new development, some business leaders worry its economic horizon is blurry.

"People who want to invest in the community want stability and predictability," said Bill Kalkoff, president of Downtown Durham Inc.

The Bull City is having a tough time projecting that image.

In the last few years, local headlines included a botched police chief search and the firing of city manager Marcia Conner. Fiery school board meetings took center stage and last week, commissioners fired the county manager.

"Once it comes to politics, it's nasty and negative," said Tom White of the Durham Chamber of Commerce.

"The image is not good because it looks like everybody's always fighting," Kalkoff said.

Kalkoff's job is to promote Durham to investors. One day after the county manager was fired, calls flooded his office.

"They simply asked the question 'What the heck is going on and how will this affect my investment in your community?" he said. "I think it's a hurdle, but we'll get over it."

To the do that, the trick may be in how the city is marketed.

"You're always being compared to other cities, counties regions and states," White said.

The chamber is playing up Durham's bright spots to potential investors -- which White lists as its universities, medical schools, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Research Triangle Park and the community college system.

Most city and county leaders believe the postives outweigh the negatives. They just have to convince outsiders of that.

No businesses have officially pulled out because of the problems, but downtown promoters say they could be dealing with the fallout for months to come.