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 Cities -

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

Brightleaf District

The Brightleaf District is anchored by Brightleaf Square. Dating back to the 1870s, Brightleaf Square occupies the former Watts and Yuille tobacco warehouses, named for George W. Watts and Thomas B. Yuille, members of the Duke family. Built by the American Tobacco Company (ATC), their original use was the storing, aging, and fermenting of tobacco for cigarett manufacturing.

After ATC was divided into three smaller companies because of its violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1911, the warehouses were bought by Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company and used which used until 1970.

In 1980, the SEHED Development Corporation acquired the buildings and reopened them as an office, dining and retail complex called Brightleaf Square. In addition, Brightleaf Square's manages many restaurants along nearby Main Street, forming a distinct vibrant urban setting on the west edge of downtown Durham.

Warehouse District

The Warehouse District is what remains of 835,000 square foot Liggett & Myers tobacco complex. In 1872, the Washington Duke Sons & Company opened a factory here, accelerating Durham's rise as a tobacco manufacturing center.

Duke become the American Tobacco Company in 1890 but was forced to split into smaller companies in 1911. These companies were the new American Tobacco Company, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company, P. Lorillard Company, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The factory originally established in the warehouse district became the operations of the Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company.

Liggett & Myers would prosper, becoming one of the nation's "Big Three" tobacco manufacturers for several decades. When their six-story Chesterfield plant opened in 1948, it was the world's most modern cigarette factory.

In 1976, Liggett & Myers changed its name to the Liggett Group, Inc. After cigarette sales declined in the 1990s, Liggett cut production back, ceasing their Durham operation in 1999.

In 2001, the Liggett Group (formerly known as Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company) announced plans to retrofit the vacant complex into a mixed use neighborhood. A few years later, the development was acquired by Blue Devil Ventures and conversion of the industrial site into a mixed use neighborhood gets underway in 2006.

Since 2006, the majority of the old Liggett & Myers complex has been repurposed as West Village. West Village features hundreds of apartments, offices, shops, and restuarants.

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.

Government Services District

The Government Services District lies just southeast of the old city's center and is home to most city and county offices.

Durham County Human Services building opened in November 2013. The $90 million, 300,000 square-foot building houses the Department of Social Services, the Alliance Behavioral Healthcare office and the Department of Veterans Services.

The 10-story, $120 million Durham County Justice Center opened in 2013. The 318,533 square foot building houses the Durham County Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's Office and 20 courtrooms.

Built to LEED Gold Standards, the complex includes lawns on its roofs for insulation and runoff capture.

Golden Belt

The Golden Belt District forms the Southeast section of Downtown Durham. It is anchored by a fully restored textile mill (Golden Belt) that has been repurposed to house art space, studios, offices, retail, lofts, and a restaurant. In recently years, the district has been the location of several infill multifamily residential developments.

Downtown Durham tour by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at

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