Program Report: Bill Kalkhof and DDI

Rotarian Steed Rollins introduced fellow Rotarian Bill Kalkhof, President of Downtown Durham Inc. for a report on developments in our Downtown.

I’ve reported at least two other presentations Bill has given to the Club and each time I’ve been faced with the same dilemma. Bill delivers so much information in such a rapid fire style that there is no way to capture more than the essence of it in 400 words. So this time I’m not going to even try. Instead I’d like to share a few impressions that may bring some perspective especially for newer residents of Durham and members of the club.

First, I have never heard Bill speak when he didn’t acknowledge that I was on the original board of DDI if he knew I was in the audience even though it has been at least 15 years since I’ve had an active role in the organization. Effective leaders instinctively do a lot of that kind of stuff and Bill is great at it.

Second, I’ve never heard anyone who worked for Bill at DDI say anything negative about him. Maria Davis, his original office manager, is still there and has seen it all. He also seems to get some fantastic people to work for him. I met Matt Coppedge several years ago but until today when Bill shared the dais with him to present part of the program, I didn’t realize what a vital part of the organization he has become. The scope and vision of the start-up program he has led the way on is breathtaking. I hope Bill can keep him.

Third, most people have no idea how bad things were in downtown twenty some years ago.  I came to Durham in 1984 to take a job at a bank in Downtown Durham after working 8 years in downtown Richmond which had recently developed its Shockoe Slip area and was a lively and attractive place. Walking down Chapel Hill Street one day past rotting “art work” that had been an effort to dress up vacant storefronts where the Civic Center now stands,  I was startled by a fox who scooted down the street past the post office.  My thought was that nature had moved in and was reclaiming the area.

Things would only get worse. In 1988 American Tobacco abandoned their factories and it was still 5 years later before Rotarian Andy Widmark and several others started raising money to start DDI.  I was one of the people that wondered if Bill was crazy or I had missed some flaw in his character when he took the job to lead DDI. It was deliciously ironic for me when Bill mentioned that Richmond is now sending delegations to Durham to see how to do downtown redevelopment.

Fourth, as bad as the physical condition of downtown was, the governmental and political situation was almost as bad. I believe the untold story of DDI’s success is how Bill has been able to maneuver through so much dysfunction to keep the organization alive, get funding, lead a board of strong characters and, oh yeah, make a lot of progress turning downtown around. Lots of Rotarians have been involved in bringing more competence and stability to the political environment. Bill mentioned City Manager Tom Bonfield specifically, but Ellen Reckhow, Howard Clement, Mike Woodard and others have also been involved.

Finally, Bill and Matt echoed the advisability of continuing to think big and reminded us that there are still holes to fill in the development landscape. Amen. While the recession has taken some of the momentum out of development,Durham can not revert to the loser attitude that for so many years meant one step backwards for every two steps forward.

Much of the detail Bill and Matt shared is at www.DowntownDurham.com, an attractive and useful website that I only have one gripe about…it uses a billboard motif that must make the teeth grind of Reyn Bowman another Rotarian and former head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau who is currently campaigning against allowing new billboards to clutter up and compromise our “sense of place.”

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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