Mayor encourages Durham residents to support local business after deadly explosion

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham leaders spoke about bringing business back to Brightleaf Square weeks after an explosion damaged the area.

Mayor Steve Schewel joined business leaders and Durham's fire chief Monday afternoon to talk about the state of businesses in the area.

"We know what a tough time this has been in Durham for the last 12 days," Schewel said. "It's really important now that all of us in Durham rally around these businesses. They have suffered from the closure of this parking lot ... but all these businesses are open now, and we all need to make sure we're down here supporting them."

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Durham Mayor Steve Schewel speaks about economic recovery in the Brightleaf District.

At the news conference, city leaders provided an update on the explosion, an update on parking in the area, and information about assistance available to local business owners.

Schewel also addressed the parking problem, noting that the new W. Pettigrew Street parking garage is open and that it is less than a five-minute walk from most of these businesses.

He also noted on-street parking and mentioned that the Brightleaf District is less than a 10-minute walk from several key locations, including CCB Plaza and Duke's East Campus.

"We're currently exploring additional parking options to ease the burden," Schewel added.

Fergus Bradley, owner of Maverick's Smokehouse, said that there were 35 restuarant and shops in the Brightleaf District.

"We're open for business. We're very proud to be part of the Brightleaf Square business district," Bradley said. "The best thing the community can do right now is to come down and shop and dine with us."

Bo Ferguson, Durham deputy city manager, gave an update on the status of the explosion site.

"The City does have a permit application we've received from Dominion Energy to do excavation at the site of where the gas line was struck," Ferguson said. "The city is reviewing that permit, expects to have it approved today."

They are working in conjunction with the North Carolina Utilities Commission, Ferguson added. Excavation should begin in the next few days, he said.

Durham Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said all of the firefighters who were injured during the explosion are back to work except for Darren Wheeler.

"I visited with (Wheeler) on Saturday," Zoldos said. "He's doing great. He is ready to come back to work as far as he's concerned; the doctors don't agree with that yet."

Zoldos said it will be a "couple months" before Wheeler returns to duty.

Zoldos said the investigation into the cause is still ongoing, though parts have been completed.

"The downtown is definitely open," Zoldos said. "Please come down and support all of the wonderful vendors that have supported the first responders."

Related: Gov. Roy Cooper visits Durham to assess damage from deadly explosion

During the weekend, Schewel encouraged citizens to help businesses in the area by visiting them.

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