Ground officially broken on the Durham Innovation District

Longfellow Real Estate Partners broke ground Thursday on two buildings in the Durham Innovation District in downtown Durham.
Longfellow Real Estate Partners broke ground Thursday on two buildings in the Durham Innovation District in downtown Durham. Special to The Herald-Sun

Boston-based real estate developer Longfellow Real Estate Partners officially broke ground Thursday on two seven-story buildings that will become part of the planned Durham Innovation District near Durham Central Park.

The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by political and business leaders from Durham and the state, including Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Durham Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs and John Hardin, executive director of the N.C. Department of Commerce Office of Science, Technology & Innovation.

The nearly $100 million project — part of the 1.7 million square-foot Durham Innovation District (Durham ID) — will bring nearly 350,000 square feet of primarily new office space downtown, along with a 1,200-vehicle parking deck. The plan will also include ground-level retail space for restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses.

Longfellow, which owns around 2 million square feet of office space in Durham and Research Triangle Park, said it expects the buildings to be completed in summer 2018. The company has been investing in the area since 2008 and has been working on Durham ID project for the past four years.

Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), the only announced tenant so far, has leased all 160,000 square feet of the 200 Morris building. The move consolidates all of DCRI’s operations in the city to downtown, rather than split between downtown’s DCRI building and Duke University.

In September 2015, the Durham City Council approved an economic incentive agreement of $5.25 million over 15 years for phase one of the project.

Adam Sichol, managing partner at Longfellow, said that while no other tenants have been announced yet, there are several interested parties. Longfellow is hoping to fill the buildings with either life science or technology companies to create a burgeoning hub of tech and science companies on the edge of central downtown.

Sichol pointed to a number of ventures that are already happening around Morris Street as evidence of the potential of that hub.

“The (innovation) district is already happening,” Sichol said. “With the momentum you’ve got with the (Measurement Inc.) building here, you’ve got great tenants like Nutanix, Method Savvy and Measurement Inc., and then on the other side you’ve got the Carmichael Building, which is 115,000 square feet, which is loaded with a bunch of Duke scientists.”

Sichol added that the Measurement Inc.-owned Imperial building, located across the street from the Longfellow project, is also home to the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative and that phase two of the Durham ID project will include several more new buildings around Morris Street.

What type of companies eventually choose to lease office space in the Durham ID will be critical for its success, said Geoff Durham, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s a real critical part of the success of the Durham Innovation District,” he said. “The thing that is exciting about having the Durham Innovation District lead with (science companies) is that science will generate different types of jobs and industries.

“... (S)cience is based on the discovery or the breakthrough status of something significant, and from there it kind of spills off great opportunities for IT companies to sort out the data that comes from that and for your more typical office users to administrate all of it.”

Durham architectural firm Duda Paine Architects has provided the design work for the buildings, and firm representatives say that the two buildings will contain a shared plaza connecting to a greenspace which will remain a permanent open space on the corner of Fernway Avenue and Morris Street. Barnhill Contract Co. is handling the construction for the project.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes