And there are the massive projects that were supposed to be the harbingers of good times. There was the city's investment in the new ballpark, even after voters said not to build it. The city spent an extra million dollars to hurriedly move its bus yard out of downtown in anticipation of a development boom. The land's still vacant. It took more than a decade for renovations to start on the mothballed American Tobacco complex, and the first phase is almost done, thanks to Capitol Broadcasting owner Jim Goodman (who also owns the Bulls) and millions in city/county money and federal tax credits--hey, I can think of a lot worse things to do with our tax dollars.
But American Tobacco isn't going to make the difference. Neither is a shiny, new theater. Making the difference will be smaller, incremental improvements--once-elegant buildings renovated and restoring life to a downtown streetscape at turns soaring and wonderfully human-scale.
As three or four restaurants become six or seven, as one or two clubs become four or five, as shrewd investors buy low and risk lots more to renovate apartments and condos, more people will live and visit downtown. Add to that a new transit station, a park and new farmers' market planned nearby, and all of a sudden there are lots of reasons I'm running into my friends, men and women, young and old, sitting outside, having dinner and hanging out. Ultimately, my friends and I aren't the only ones with a vested interest in reviving downtowns, whether it's Durham or Raleigh or Cary or Garner. If these revivals give us better places to live, we all do.