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Director heads for private sector role

One of the driving forces behind Durham's downtown revitalization plan is leaving our city government.

Ted Abernathy, the director of Durham's economic and employment development office, will take a post at the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, a 13-county organization dedicated to economic development. He headed the development office since its creation in 1998.

From the start, Abernathy focused on trying to spread the benefits of Durham's booming economy to all parts of the city, particularly central Durham and downtown. Some of his efforts included the Blue Devil Ventures West Village and the continuing redevelopment of the former American Tobacco warehouses.

Current assistant director of economic and employment development Greg Payne, Trinity '86, will serve as acting director until a permanent replacement for Abernathy can be found.

Payne said that he would continue to work toward the same goals, particularly the transformation of the American Tobacco facility into an upscale retail, office and entertainment complex.

Abernathy's departure comes on the heels of a decision by City Manager Lamont Ewell, who has also been heavily involved with downtown economic development, to leave for San Diego.

But Payne, while disappointed that Abernathy is leaving, said Durham is still in a good economic situation. "I think [Abernathy] is hard to replace because of his creativity, his energy and the fact that he has a lot of good ideas. He's an idea person," Payne said. "The good thing is the essentials of Durham's position have not changed. The economy is certainly one of the most enviable in the country, and certainly in North Carolina."

Ewell agreed that Abernathy's decision to leave would not be disastrous. "Rebuilding cities is not something that can be attributed to one person or two or three people. It takes a team," Ewell said. "We have built human resource depth so both Ted's and my departure will not negatively affect the city. I think we have the depth to move forward."

And Ewell said he was confident in Payne's abilities to continue carrying out Durham's master plan, managing and recommending loans for small businesses, attracting businesses and running the employment side of the office.

"Greg Payne will continue in the tradition Ted established three years ago of excellence and involvement in our community," Ewell said.

Payne said he might be interested in filling the position permanently.

Abernathy's new employer is a joint partnership of private and public economic development organizations in 13 counties centered around the Research Triangle. It focuses on marketing the region for development purposes.

As executive vice president of RTRP, Abernathy will focus on external marketing to businesses and other organizations both internationally and across the United States. The job will also include providing services to businesses in the region.

"Our board of directors thinks we need to focus on our marketing but also on issues that are of interest to businesses... to position ourselves as a voice for businesses in the area," said Charles Hayes, the CEO of RTRP.

Abernathy could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

James Herriott contributed to this story.


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