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Successful Downtown Revitalization: Durham, NC

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.

Published December 13, 2013 in Learning From      8 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

City Center

The City Center is the area that was considered Downtown Durham for most of the city's existence. City Center is home to most of Durham's tallest buildings and Main Street, downtown's historic commercial corridor.

Durham Marriott is directly attached to the Durham Convention Center.

CCB Plaza is located at the intersection of East Chapel Hill and North Corcoran Streets.

Completed in 1937 for the Durham Bank & Trust Company, the 17-story Hill Building (Suntrust) was designed by NYC's Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. This firm was best known for the design of the Empire State Building. The Art Deco skyscraper is currently being redeveloped into a boutique hotel by Kentucky-based Museum Hotels.

The Carolina Theatre dates back to 1926. The city owns the facility and it's operated by a nonprofit organization named The Carolina Theatre of Durham, Incorporated.

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December 13, 2013, 08:37:47 AM
Spent a few years in Durham and loved it. These photos indicate that it has changed a lot in the six years I've been away, but it was abundantly clear from my time there that the place had a long-term commitment to play to a major strength (adaptive reuse of great historic building stock).

A few things worth mentioning:

The American Tobacco Trail is a 22 mi rail-to-trails project that runs through downtown. It seems to be constantly expanding and connecting to a really interesting regional network of trails.

Downtown Durham is home to Merge Records -- one of the longest standing and most successful independent record labels of all time. It grew from documenting the local college music scene to releasing grammy-winning records.

The map above indicates it, but it should be clear that Duke University's East Campus is immediately adjacent to the downtown's northwest. Town-gown relations haven't always been great (understatement?), but the University finally seems to have figured out that working well w/ Durham is important. Plus, several formal Duke Basketball stars were behind some of the downtown revitalization efforts (via Blue Devil Ventures and w/ mixed success). One of them (Christian Laettner, the most hated figure in college basketball history -- and the opposite for Duke fans) now calls Jax home.

Wacca Pilatka

December 13, 2013, 08:45:36 AM
Doesn't downtown Durham also have the tallest building the country with awnings?


December 13, 2013, 08:49:15 AM
Also, there is a very nice Mellow Mushroom in the American Tobacco complex immediately adjacent to the Durham Bulls Stadium. Nevertheless, the Bulls have continued to win games, crime has not worsened and downtown redevelopment has continued.


December 13, 2013, 09:26:03 AM
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.

What industries are fueling Durham's revitalization today? 


December 13, 2013, 09:30:27 AM
Duke and being a part of the Research Triangle.


December 13, 2013, 02:45:57 PM
Very interesting comparison.


December 13, 2013, 04:13:11 PM
The arts and entertainment industry, as well as foodie/restaurant/food truck culture fuels our economy now as well. (I was born in Jacksonville, visit my father there often, and have lived in Durham for the past 15 yrs.)


December 15, 2013, 04:29:32 PM
Most of RTP is located in Durham County. The industries with a presence there, along with higher ed (Duke is also home to NC Central University, an HBCU), medicine (the city's nickname is "The City of Medicine"), and the arts, are largely fueling Durham's economy.
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