By Waugh Wright
On Saturday, April 24th, the Walltown Community Association (WCA), in coordination with the Northgate Mall Neighborhood Council (NMNC), organized a press conference to discuss the development of the Northgate Mall property and what they hope (and fear) to see happen to the site. Over a hundred residents of Walltown, Trinity Park, and other local neighborhoods attended the event, where organizer Brandon Williams and other residents spoke about the history of the area and the importance of developers working with the communities they enter.
After years of decline, the majority of the 45-acre Northgate Mall was sold to Northwood Ravin; the old Macy’s building had already been bought by the Duke University Health System to house a new medical office building. Northwood Ravin, a real estate management company whose website boasts of their “luxurious communities across the United States,” plans to build in two phases, although few details have been forthcoming. The first phase would involve six four-story buildings featuring ground-level retail and housing above. This would be followed by two ten-story buildings along I-85 at the rear of the site. The initial phase would not be required to go before the Durham City Council or the Planning Commission, and while Mayor Steve Schewel hopes the developer will work to resolve concerns of local residents, he said in a series of letters between the city and Northwood Ravin that he “was genuinely taken aback by the tone and substance of [their] letter … and how [they] view [their] corporate civic responsibilities.”
At the press conference at the Walltown Park Recreation Center, across from the mall, Williams spoke about how the Walltown community has banded together often over the years, such as when fighting to stop encroachment from the mall or to get the Walltown Park Recreation Center built. But lately homeowners have been preyed upon by aggressive developers, showing up at their front doors “with envelopes full of cash offering to buy your house.” In a neighborhood with a median income of around $37,000 and where a quarter for the residents have lived there over 30 years, Williams said it takes effort to maintain the character of the neighborhood.
The WCA has been working with Walltown residents since the site was purchased in 2018. In July of last year, they organized the NMNC with 12 members representing adjoining neighborhoods: Walltown, Northgate Park, Duke Park, Trinity Park, Trinity Heights, Watts Hospital Hillandale, and Old West Durham. The NMNC has surveyed the greater area, hosted meetings, and conducted a design charette. Working with a design team from the Coalition for Affordable Housing & Transit and NC State University, they produced three alternative designs to present Northwood Ravin with new, community-sourced ideas.
After the press conference, the WCA and NMNC sent a letter to Mayor Schewel and the city council, outlining four priorities:
- Affordable Housing
- Affordable Retail
- Accessible Community-centered Design
- Environmental Sustainability
Members of the WCA and NMNC met multiple times with Northwood Ravin in 2020 and January of this year. At these meetings, Northwood Ravin said their goal was to have plans drawn up by May or June of this year. As of press time, these plans have not been made public, but stay tuned!