The neighborhood of East Durham has long celebrated a rich and colorful history, and a local revitalization project in the area is seeking to preserve the historical fabric of the community – one property at a time.
Cathleen Turner, the Piedmont regional director of Preservation North Carolina, has been involved with Project Revitalize East Durham – a local collaboration between Preservation NC and Preservation Durham – for the past five years.
“Project RED uses historic preservation as a tool to preserve the community and character of the neighborhood,” she said.
She said the project began when many local community members met with the preservation society and the local police department to address issues with crime and high renter ownership in the area.
The neighborhood’s 80 percent rate of renter ownership had led to many problems, said Ian Kipp, a Durham realtor who now sells properties renovated by Project RED.
“When you have a high rate of renter ownership, the renters are not going to be as invested in the community,” he said. “A homeowner is the one who is actually going to pick up the phone and call 911 if they see a crime, simply because they have more at stake.”
Thus, Project RED sprung up to help attract more long-term homeowners to the community by fixing up properties that attract investment, said Kipp.
“This is a great opportunity for East Durham to attract people who can’t get into those neighborhoods in Central Durham that are getting more expensive each day,” he said.
And Turner said she hopes the project’s revitalization work may also attract others to fix up other properties in the area as well.
“If you fix up a historic property at a minimum cost of $25,000, that can open up tax credits,” she said. “We want to give people an incentive to come in and take on preservation projects themselves.”
Still, for Turner, money has never been the motive.
“It really is about nurturing the historic fabric that makes up this community,” she said.
Project RED has focused much of their revitalization efforts around S. Driver Street, where Kipp has listed three renovated properties in the area.
He said he has sold one of the properties at 106 N. Driver St., but is still waiting to get an offer on the houses at 1918 Hart St. and 213 S. Driver St.
Still, he said he has seen encouraging reactions from people in the community.
“The energy is palpable,” he said. “For people who have been living there and haven’t seen much happening in the last 10 years, this is a renaissance of sorts.”
And though Project RED largely focuses on residential properties, it still has been able to impact other areas of growth in the community, said Turner.
In fact, Turner just recently attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of the Maureen Joy Charter School on S. Driver Street.
“We helped get that project started and have a preservation easement on the building,” she said.
But the organization is more than just saving buildings, said Turner.
“We really like to get out there and knock on doors and build the relationships that make this community so special,” she said.
For East Durham residents such as Robert Burke, these efforts seem to be working.
“It’s been awesome to see the neighborhood come alive again with all these projects,” he said. “We just hope it’ll last.”
Luckily for Burke, Turner said she would not be leaving the community any time soon.
“This is a vision for the community that we will continue to work toward,” she said. “We’re excited to continue our efforts.”
Turner said Project RED’s next revitalization project is set to begin soon at 212 S. Driver St.
And though Kipp said the process might take a while to fully take hold in the community, he expressed his optimism in the project’s direction.
“Everything’s not going to just turn around in a day,” he said. “But luckily, all the arrows are pointing toward our community getting lots of investment, so we’re pretty happy about that.”
And though Turner said she knows the process of revitalization is not easy, she said she knew the project was one worth her time.
“This community is so special and has a great story to tell,” she said. “We just hope to look at the needs of the community and eventually meet them.”