Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

What’s going down in downtown Durham? — Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

East Main Street in downtown Durham. One City Center is the tall building under construction.
East Main Street in downtown Durham. One City Center is the tall building under construction. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

Downtown Durham is a mix of used-to-be and going-to-be, and hopefully will maintain that mix of is and was without letting one take over the other. Revitalized is the buzzword but gentrified is what the neighborhoods within walking distance might become depending on how it all pans out. Maybe they have already.

Even so, Durham is still Durham, with all its laundry laid out for everyone to see. There’s the jail right across the street from the Durham Performing Arts Center. There’s public housing down the block. There’s the Urban Ministries of Durham shelter right across the street from the library, undergoing a major renovation that will make it look less Old Durham and more New Durham.

The Durham County Library’s main building downtown is the latest architectural change to downtown Durham, which has construction or renovation projects underway from the east side to the west side. New Durham, old Durham, middle-range Durham all architecturally adjacent.

I went to check out the library’s work, and found construction crews clearing small trees and shrubbery from the grounds. The library has been closed since mid-January and is undergoing a two-year major renovation funded by $44.3 million of the bond referendum Durham County voters passed last November.

At the other end of downtown, another Durham institution is undergoing a makeover -- the NC Mutual Life Insurance building is now called the Legacy Tower by its new owner and will undergo $11 million in renovations.

With all the construction happening downtown, where’s the Durham from before? Oh, it’s still there. Does downtown still have public housing? Yep. Does it have storefronts without spruced-up entrances? Yep. Does it still have old churches? Restaurants? A shop here and there? All yes.

There are parking meters on the street now, but there is also meterless parking downtown if you know where to look. I hesitate to tell you where the secret fishing holes are, but might as well.

Ninth Street Bakery has off-street free parking for customers right near Five Points. Ninth Street Bakery is not on Ninth Street. Its entrance is either off East Chapel Hill Street or East Main Street. Fun fact: Do you know what used to be in that building? The Herald-Sun. The old Herald-Sun sign is on the East Chapel Hill Street side of the building, and there are a lot of other offices that have taken over what once held the press, newsroom and other operations of this newspaper. Word is there might be some of the old press still down in there.

As long as an old building can share some legacy, then it’s still there. One City Center is going up on what was once Woolworth’s, which was visited by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But the old Woolworth’s had been an empty lot long before One City Center started being built. As long as we remember what came before, and maintain what we can, anything new can keep the best of what’s old, too.

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