Successful Downtown Revitalization: Durham, NC

December 13, 2013 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Much of Downtown Jacksonville's historic buildings have been demolished in previous decades. Preserving what's left may be vital to downtown's rebirth. To see the importance of historic preservation and adaptive reuse in a downtown setting, Metro Jacksonville takes a trip to Durham, North Carolina.

Tale of the Tape:

Durham City Population 2012: 239,358 (City); 522,826 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1869)

Jacksonville City Population 2012: 836,507 (City); 1,377,850 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Durham (73,368)

City Land Area

Durham: 94.6 square miles
Jacksonville: 747.0 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2012)

Durham: +3.66%
Jacksonville: +2.40%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Durham: 347,602 (ranked 110 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Durham: 1,912.6 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2010 to 2012

Durham: +11,028
Jacksonville: +14,723

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Durham: Durham Convention Center -  33,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Durham: Durham Marriott City Center (190 rooms)
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building/Structure:

Durham: University Tower - 365 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2013 (City limits only):

Durham: N/A
Jacksonville: CSX (231), Fidelity National Financial (353), Fidelity National Information Services (434)

Downtown Nightlife District:

Durham: American Tobacco, Brightleaf Square
Jacksonville: The Elbow, The Jacksonville Landing

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Durham: 61 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 78 out of 100, according to

About Downtown Durham

The Durham Freeway (SR 147) connects Downtown Durham to Interstate 40 and nearby Raleigh.

For much of the early 20th century, Downtown Durham was the center of the American cigarette industry. By 1944, Durham manufactured 1/4 of all cigarettes made in the United States. Anchored by the American Tobacco Company, Liggett & Myers, and the thousands of workers they employed, Downtown Durham was a vibrant place.  In the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Public Health condemned the industry with a publication of a report showing that tobacco use resulted in poor health. by the end of the century, all of Downtown Durham's cigarette factories had closed, leaving millions of vacant industrial square footage behind them.

Today, Downtown Durham is a different place. It's a district that's comprised of several of its own unique sub-districts within a compact area. Many of those unique districts were born from the preservation and adaptive reuse of the cigarette factories that made the city an early industrial powerhouse.

Here is a brief tour of Downtown Durham visually illustrating the impact of historic preservation on economic development.

Map of Downtown Durham

American Tobacco Historic District

The American Tobacco Historic District is what remains of American Tobacco Company's downtown cigarette factory.

American Tobacco was founded by J.B. Duke in 1890 and became one of the original 12 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 1896. The company quickly became so dominate, that Antitrust action in 1907 eventually broke the business into several major companies in 1911. American Tobacco Company restructured itself in 1969, forming a holding company called American Brands, Inc.

In 1986, American Brands shut down their aging Downtown Durham cigarette factory. After selling all tobacco holdings in 1994, American Brands renamed itself Fortune Brands.

In the mid 2000s, Capitol Broadcasting redeveloped ATC's abandoned one-million square foot cigarette plant into a complex of offices, shops and restaurants. Today, this historic district is one of the region's most popular entertainment districts, while also preserving the physical legacy of one of America's great entreprenurial success stories.

The $48 million Durham Performing Arts Center opened in 2008. With a capacity of 2,712, it is the largest performing arts center in the carolinas.

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park is a 10,000-seat ballpark that opened in 1995. The $18.5 million stadium is home to the Durham Bulls, the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball.

When it was completed in 1965, the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance building was the tallest office building in the country owned by African Americans.

Completed in 2009, Durham Station is the city's new transportation center. The $17.5 million

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