Local News

Survey studies image of downtown Durham

Posted July 22, 2008 5:29 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2008 7:14 p.m. EDT

— A survey released by the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau shows the image of downtown Durham is improving, but some people still have negative impressions of the area.

The telephone survey was conducted May and June with 400 residents each in Durham, Orange and Wake counties. While 78 percent of Durham County residents had a "very positive" or "positive" impression of downtown, residents in Wake and Orange counties were mostly "undecided" about the area.

Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham Inc., said the image problem is isolated to a certain area.

“Within Durham County we like each other. Then you’ve got this ring around us for about 50 to 100 miles where we have this perception issue,” Kalkhof said. “When you go out regionally or nationally, Durham is held in very high regard.”

In Durham County, the percentage of residents who saw the area as “very positive” increased 28 percentage points from 1999, according to the survey.

About 48 percent of Orange County residents found downtown Durham favorable – a drop of 1.3 percentage points since 1999. Another 43 percent remained undecided. The favorable impression of downtown increased 1.3 percentage points from 1999 among Wake County residents. While about 44 percent found the area favorable, 48 percent were undecided.

DCVB representatives said the number of people who reported being uncertain about their impressions of downtown shows that people are moving from a negative impression to neutral and may eventually be won over.

Daniel Ellison, who owns buildings downtown, said it is common to hear the phrase, “Don’t go to Durham,” but never an explanation why.

In the survey, Wake and Orange county residents who visited the city, not just the downtown area, of Durham, during the last 12 months were more likely to report a favorable impression of downtown Durham. Seventy-five percent of those people said they had a positive impression of downtown. Thirty-one percent reported a very positive response.

“Durham has its image challenges. Some people think we are great; some people don’t,” Ellison said.

Some people blame the media.

“When you turned on the news, it used to be that crimes in Durham would be the first thing that you saw,” said Jennings Brody, owner of Parker and Otis, a downtown restaurant and catering business.

Some believe the reputation for crime has been inflated in the competition to lure workers in Research Triangle Park to live elsewhere.

Frank White, owner of White Cap Solutions in downtown Durham, said Wake County has been touted as the place to “come and live” and Durham County and the Research Triangle Park as the placed “to work.”

Kalkhof said marketing efforts have been concentrated in Durham County over the last five years.

“We are going to have to expand our outreach,” Kalkhof said.

Kalkhof believes the solution is a more unified marketing effort. He would like to see Durham do a campaign similar to the "I Love New York" campaign.