There is much more going on in Durham than meets the eye.
The Economic Development Committee of Durham met to discuss developments to make Durham more appealing. The meeting was held at the Durham Town Hall on Newmarket Road on Tuesday, April 18, at 8 a.m..
Seven of the nine-member council were in attendance but one of those seats is vacant. The meeting was lead by Economic Development Director Mary Ellen Humphrey.
Allan Howland is a council representative on the committee. He spoke briefly about a previous meeting with local business owners that do and do not want to develop themselves further.
“We have the Hopkins, who have Wildcat Pizza, they want to develop now,” Howland said. “We have Ken Young [Young’s Restaurant] who doesn’t want to develop for 10 years. We have Peter Murphy who just bought Town & Campus who does want to develop. So [we] were just getting a sense of where everyone was.”
Howland encouraged local business owners to come to future meetings and share their thoughts.
A new restaurant was proposed to be established this summer on the ground floor of Madbury Commons. The restaurant, Hop + grind, will specialize in burgers and beer. However, council member Sally Tobias, expressed some concern about this new business saying there is fear in town that too many developments in town are directed toward student benefit.
Tobias also said that she hears a lot of criticism about the downtown area. This revolved around the notion that there are too many students, which, according to Tobias, can act as a disincentive for others to go downtown.
Warren Daniel is a regular member of the council and used to be a business owner in Durham for 29 years. Daniel’s outlook on the impending restaurant was one of optimism.
“I think restaurants are very important for the makeup of the downtown,” Daniel said. “We’re not going to have chains in downtown Durham, those days are gone. So, you know, what is the marketplace that we want?”
Daniel stressed that veering away from student oriented businesses would be damaging to the downtown and recognized the challenge of having such a small town compared to the large university.
In addition, Humphrey discussed the future of the empty lot at 66 Main Street. Between People’s United Bank and Town & Campus, the lot used to be occupied by the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house.
After the meeting was adjourned, Humphrey discussed with The New Hampshire how she does not think the lot at 66 Main Street will be given back to Alpha Tau Omega.
“There’s been a number of attempts…at redeveloping that site. But for various reasons they haven’t come to fruition,” Humphrey said.
According to Humphrey, the university owns the property and has submitted a request for proposal (RFP). Because of this, the university is now telling the town what they think would be best for the property rather than the other way around.
“It might be only a hotel and restaurant, or it might be commercial space, we don’t know. We are going to let the people who are experts at making it work tell us instead of us saying we want this and that,” Humphrey said. “I think this time will be the successful one.”
On the relationship between the town and the over 14,000 students that live and learn in Durham, Humphrey said, “We can’t disconnect the students because they are the lifeblood of Durham. The students, the university are really what makes Durham have a lot of the amenities that it has and desirability and the values of the properties here are directly related to the university. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”