Monday, July 18, 2011

Kalkhof: "DDI is off the table"

“If I run for city council DDI is off the table,” Bill Kalkhof, president of Durham Downtown, Inc., told me during a recent phone conversation. “It would be a conflict of interest if I continued to serve.”

The conversation came after a recent blog were I mention Kalkhof as a potential candidate for city council. His name has circulated since 2009 after he shared his interest with Barry Ragin and Kevin Davis on Shooting the Bull, their radio show on WXDU. Kalkhof says he has pondered running since then with the understanding that doing so would mean leaving the post he has held since the beginning of DDI.

“I have a team in place,” he told me. “If I decide to run now they are prepared. If not this time they are in place for me to run late.”. Kalkhof was clear that serious thought has gone into his decision to run. At issue is not if, but when, and the when has much to do with if the landscape is such that he can assure winning.

Kalkhof has been instrumental in fueling growth in downtown Durham. Once a wasteland of vacant and deteriorating buildings, downtown has transformed into one of the hottest spots in the South. The city has caught the attention of the New York Times and is regarded as a national model for economic development.

To keep the wheels of progress flowing, Kalkhof led the charge to pass the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) which created a special taxing district for augmented services downtown. Like a master craftsman, Kalkhof was able to convince the city council the BID is essential during tough economic times.

"If you believe, like DDI does, that the current level of services is simply not good enough, then we're going to have to have a public-private option to raise up the level of services downtown, and to do so in a way that does not take away from other neighborhoods," Kalkhof said during a council meeting. He convinced the council that forming a special tax district would free funds to focus on other vital needs.

Kalkhof has his share of critics. Some have argued that the emphasis on economic development downtown has robbed resources from North East Central Durham and Southside/Rolling Hills. Others are critical of how Kalkhof and DDI receives credit for all that growth while failing to acknowledge the contributions of Jim Goodman at American Tobacco, Christian Laettner, Brian Davis and Tom Niemann at West Village, and Michael Lemanski, Steve Mangano, Paul Smith and Carl Webb at Greenfire Development. They are quick to point to a series of interrelated events that led to massive growth in downtown. More than Kalkhof’s passion, they argue, it was the vision of these business folks that stirred the growth.

The critics of Kalkhof are silenced by the success of downtown economic development. His passion and consistent voice as the advocate for downtown revitalization has been influential in shifting the tide. Now that the BID is in place, Kalkhof is free to pass the baton and consider expanding economic growth in other areas as a member of the city council.

Kalkhof has talked about focusing on downtown and extending economic development from the center. He has talked about developing North East Central Durham and Soutside/Rolling Hills after building a strong infrastructure from the downtown district core.

Maybe he can follow through with the rest of the vision. One thing is certain-we have to take notice of his track record.

DDI is off the table. Sounds like he needs to be placed in a seat.

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