Grand plans are underway as business leaders hope to bring innovation and new jobs to downtown Durham’s north side. The plans are expensive, with a build-out cost of $300 million, but not unlike the $200 million transformation of the American Tobacco Campus on the south side of town.
The project, called “Durham Innovation District” or “Durham.ID,” would stretch along the 200, 300, and 400 blocks of Morris Street and loosely incorporate the West Village buildings and the entertainment district surrounding Durham Athletic Park and Durham Farmers’ Market. If plans are approved, as much as 1.3 million square-feet of new buildings could be constructed in the next 10 years, along with many building renovations.
DurhamID hopes to create spaces that attract companies bringing hundred of news jobs to downtown Durham and is in early talks with city officials about parking deck construction. Real estate developers for the life science industry have already begun investing in the area:
- Boston-based Longfellow Real Estate Partners has invested nearly $100 million in two buildings that may anchor DurhamID. Adam Sichol, a Longfellow founding partner, said the warehouse and historic building redevelopment around downtown Durham reminded him and his partners of Cambridge, Massachusetts 20 years ago. There, they were involved in the development of Kendall Square, a mixed-use project near the MIT campus.
- Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology bought the historic Chesterfield Building and is targeting life science and technology companies to lease renovated spaces. Wexford hired Durham developer Josh Parker to lead efforts in the Triangle. Parker says the primary focus now is attracting new companies that can generate jobs for downtown Durham. “The more of us going after that, the more of us are going to be successful,” he says.
- Duke University administrators have also been part of the planning for DurhamID, as investors are counting on companies that will want to work closely with their research. At Carmichael, for example, Duke will have about 240 professionals at any given time, with stations already set up for experiments in molecular physiology and human disease modeling.
Downtown Durham already has nearly 200 startup companies and entrepreneurs based in co-working spaces, along with approximately 80 restaurants with a 10-minute walk of DurhamID. Five new hotels are also slated to open in 2015, including the 21c Museum Hotel, a contemporary art museum, restaurant, and boutique hotel.
“The Research Triangle Park has obviously been extremely successful attracting companies, and we’re rooting for their success to continue,” said Jessica Brock, managing director for Longfellow’s Durham office. “At the same time, our market has lacked an urban alternative for life sciences companies. A more diverse market means homes for more companies. And a rising tide lifts all boats.”
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