Why Liberty Warehouse is set to be the face of Durham tourism

Spectators watch the fireworks display at the end of the game. 2016 was a record-breaking year for tourism in Durham.
Spectators watch the fireworks display at the end of the game. 2016 was a record-breaking year for tourism in Durham.

Durham will be one of the cover models for North Carolina tourism in 2018, as the state’s tourism arm is placing the city on the cover of its 2018 Official North Carolina Travel Guide.

It’s the second time that Durham has graced the cover of the publication, with the city originally appearing on the cover in 2011. Durham will share the honors this year with Madison County and Wrightsville Beach. Visit NC distributes the guide to the state’s welcome centers, city visitors bureaus and at domestic and international trade shows.

“This is like getting placed on the cover of Sports Illustrated if you’re a sports team,” said Shelly Green, CEO of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau (DCVB). “This will be great exposure for Durham going into 2018.”

A photo of the Liberty Warehouse apartments represents Durham on the cover of the 2018 guide. In 2011, Brightleaf Square was placed on the cover. The Liberty Warehouse apartments were selected because it represents the transformation of Durham from a place of abandoned warehouses to a modern, cultural hub, Green said.

The Liberty Warehouse apartments were once a tobacco auction house that collapsed earlier this decade. The cover of the travel guide features a mural on parts of the original warehouse walls created by local artist Darius Quarles.

Durham will be one of three North Carolina cities to be featured on the cover of the 2018 Official North Carolina Travel Guide that is produced by Visit NC. Courtesy of Visit NC

Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit NC, said Durham was selected because it was “hot” and “making news.”

Tuttell pointed to the city’s surging visitor numbers, as proof that the city is cementing itself as a tourist destination for the Piedmont region – with Durham posting some of the largest growth for tourism in North Carolina.

Record-breaking year

DCVB, which releases annual tourism data, said it saw a record-breaking number of tourists visit Durham in 2016.

An estimated 15.8 million visitors came to the Bull City in 2016, a year that was highlighted by boycotts of the state due to the controversial House Bill 2. The total number of visitors was a 4.4 percent increase on the number of visitors who came to Durham in 2015.

That surge lead to a total of $928 million being spent in the city, which was another record and a 5.5 percent increase from 2015. Tourism-generated tax revenue was also more than $188 million in 2016, with $54.1 million of that total going to local governments.

The 2016 numbers were, in part, shielded from the impacts of the HB2 controversy, Green said.

“Most of the impact of HB2 was not on leisure traveling but on sports events and conventions,” she said.

Green added that because HB2 was implemented in the middle of 2016, events hosted that year weren’t targeted for cancellations or boycotts. Rather the the real impact of HB2 would’ve been felt in this year and into 2018 and ’19.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, for example, was scheduled to host the Atlantic Coast Conference annual baseball tournament in 2017, but the tournament was moved due to HB2. However, the tournament is returning for the next two years.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes