Thursday, January 8, 2009

Durham Renaissance

Downtown Durham’s revival is a thing to behold.

When I began working at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park nine years ago it was a lonely place in the off-season. Our neighbors were the abandoned, seedy Lucky Strike factory and the City’s bus depot, an urban eyesore. Thousands of pigeons resided in the abandoned mill, and they routinely "bombed" the ballpark (if you get my drift.) Homeless folks would knock on my Blackwell St. window soliciting support, and I usually drove a couple of miles to Subway for lunch.

What a transformation in under a decade! The old tobacco factory is now the American Tobacco Historic District, a campus of about fifty companies with three thousand employees, five restaurants and loft apartments. The bus lot is the brand spankin’ new Durham Performing Arts Center.

The City of Durham placed a controversial bet in the early 1990’s when it decided to build our $16 million ballpark. (The DBAP opened in 1995.) Over time, however, the Bulls’ success emboldened City leaders to make an even greater public investment in downtown that helped to engender this remarkable revival.

Downtown Durham Inc. keeps a running total on the public investment that’s currently pegged at $315 million, and those taxpayer dollars have been leveraged to produce $820 million in private investment - over a billion dollars!

The new
Durham Performing
Arts Center...or DPAC

DDI has gathered some data on the center city from 1992-93 (when the ballpark was being hotly debated) and compared it to 2008:
  • Tax base: $124 million to $500 million
  • Employment: 3,800 to 14,500
  • Commercial space: 1 million sq feet to 2.8 million
  • Visitors: 1 million to 1.7 million
  • Residential units: 100 to 900
  • City dwellers: 160 to 1400
And there are accolades to go with the DDI stats:

Durham’s Downtown named one of the Top 15 Up and Coming Neighborhoods by Business Week

#1 Foodiest Small Town in America by Bon Appetit

#1 Best Place to Retire by Black Enterprise

#3 Best Green City by Lifestyle

...and finally, another Business Week recognition that I’m really counting on:

#3 Best City to Ride Out a Recession

You are cordially invited to visit us at the American Tobacco Historic District and Downtown Durham!

The courtyard
at the American Tobacco Campus
& the Old Bull River...or ATC