Downtown Durham Revival

by Jay on September 24, 2010

A Walk through Downtown Durham

In the late 80’s I was working for a public relations outfit with offices in Brightleaf Square. At this time downtown revitalization was mostly talk and the general perception was that downtown was a dangerous and scary place.  One evening I found myself at a public hearing at city hall (does anyone remember the super-conducting super-collider?) with my car still parked on the other side of downtown at Brightleaf.

I was bored and not needed and not accumulating any more billable hours so I overcame any trepidation and started to walk down Parrish St, crossed over to Main at Corcoran and followed it the rest of the way past Liggett to Brightleaf.

It’s been pointed out to me that I’m a big ex-jock but I don’t go looking for trouble and don’t want to confront a bunch of drug crazed hoodlums any more than anybody else. But I didn’t find that.

What I found was that it was spooky, but only because it was so empty. The only living soul I saw during the walk, which probably took ten or fifteen minutes was one lonely soul sitting on the steps of the bank building at Five Points smoking a cigarette.  As soon as he saw me he flicked away the cigarette and took off quickly, obviously surprised to see me.

The reason I bring this up is because I went Downtown last night at the invitation of architect Scott Harmon for a reception at a truly spectacular residence he designed in the building that once housed the nightclub Ringside. Actually, during my late night walk many years ago, the same building housed the rather unglamorous offices of a surveyor.

It’s one thing to read about Downtown Durham’s revival but it’s another thing to experience it.  On a Thursday night the place was teeming.  I had to ride around the block to even find a parking place.  At the reception I ran into old friend and fellow Rotarian Carl Webb, who is a partner now in Greenfire Development, a group that just won public incentives to redevelop the Hill Building and the TeerMark Building adjoining it as a boutique hotel and spa…in Downtown Durham!

As Carl ticked off the new restaurants and nightspots, I realized most of them I hadn’t visited yet.  That’s going to change.  Earlier in the week working with videographer Wil Weldon and photographer Jesse Turner we interviewed two of the residents of Mangum506, the sleek condos also designed by Scott Harmon that have pushed the boundaries of the revitalization across Mangum Street at Seminary.  One of the residents was a young professional guy who works in the Park and the other was an tennis playing nurse with grown kids and a cute dog.  Each was living downtown for different reasons and each had space in the development that was different than the others.  But they both love it.

Now, I go downtown almost every week for the Rotary meeting at the Marriott at noon on Mondays. But being in Downtown Durham at night is a completely different experience.  Rather than rolling the sidewalks up every evening like it was back in the 80’s, the evening is now when Downtown comes alive.  Any Durhamite that hasn’t been down there for a year or two ought to make an evening of it…if you can find a parking place.

I wonder where that guy has found a quiet place to smoke a cigarette now?

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