Durham County

As Durham grows, another call to unravel the Downtown Loop

Hotels are one area of growth in downtown Durham. Unscripted, on left, and 21c Museum Hotel, on right are at the center of downtown. One City Center condos are shown under construction, center, in early 2018.
Hotels are one area of growth in downtown Durham. Unscripted, on left, and 21c Museum Hotel, on right are at the center of downtown. One City Center condos are shown under construction, center, in early 2018. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Over the past decade, downtown Durham has gained 1,000 more residential units, 529 more hotel rooms, 300,000 more square feet of commercial space, 60 restaurants and 30 shops.

Those numbers are since Downtown Durham Inc.'s last master-plan update, and a new one just came out.

Downtown development isn't slowing down.

What else is in the the works:

More than 1.2 million square feet of office space.

More than 1,500 housing units.

More than 100,000 square feet of retail space.

DDI was formed in 1993 to be the catalyst for downtown revitalization and is funded by city and county governments and other sources.

The nonprofit group's update wants to make downtown walkable and vibrant for the people who live, work and visit. DDI held three focus groups, four public meetings and interviewed 36 stakeholders. It also had a steering committee of city and county department heads, property owners and residents. They presented the final report to the Durham City Council last week.

Matt Gladdek, director of policy and planning for DDI, said this update, unlike previous plans, was primarily fueled by public input. He said they sought diversity for gender and race but that there is very little Latino community representation downtown right now.

Downtown is a living room for Durham and they want to make it welcoming for everyone, Gladdek said.

What the plan calls for:

Retail clusters

High quality, diverse retailers

A sense of place

Discouraging non-retail at street level

Racial and cultural diversity

Embracing density

Downtown-wide parking solution

What the plan wants to get rid of:

The downtown loop and one-way streets.

One-way streets kill retail, Gladdek said, because it's harder to get in and out of businesses.

Durham was not among the 41 cities to receive the most recent round of U.S. Department of Transportation Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants announced in March.

Mayor Steve Schewel told Gladdek he's not offering city money, but hopes another TIGER grant could fund turning the downtown loop back into two-way streets.

Schewel also reminded Gladdek that there will be retail space in the new city-owned parking garage being built at Mangum and Morgan streets. That's inside the loop.

DowntownDurhamgarage2.jpg
The new city mixed use parking garage, under construction in the foreground, is inside the downtown Durham loop on a one-way street, Morgan Street. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan dvaughan@heraldsun.com

New mixed use parking garage

Gladdek said because the new mixed use parking garage is on the loop, new retail will be in a really difficult retail situation. The garage will open in 2019.

City Manager Tom Bonfield said the city is engaging a broker sometime soon for the mixed use garage space.

Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, who is on DDI's board, asked about the impact of new apartment buildings going up downtown instead of office space, and how that will affect job growth.

Gladdek said the market right now is pushing development that way because timber multi-family units are inexpensive and profitable compared to office buildings. But for the city, that means lower tax value and fewer jobs.

There have to be incentives if the city wants offices downtown, he said.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan
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