What is this “Durham Innovation District” thing?

You may have seen headlines about some thing called “Durham.ID.” Despite the name, it is 1) not related to durham.io and 2) not even actually a domain name; rather it’s… an “Innovation District.”

What’s an “Innovation District?” Well, apparently:

“We want it to be technology; we want it to be big data; we want it to be all kinds of interactions day and night to make this truly a fun place to be,” he said.

Yeah, OK. Nothing says “fun” like “big data.” But let’s roll with it.

Here’s the tldr; version: basically, this is a potentially large mixed use development (skewed towards office space but with residential and commercial components) which is a joint venture between Longfellow Partners and Measurement Inc. From what I can tell, Measurement owns most of the property presently; it’s unclear to me whether they intend to simply sell it all to Longfellow or whether they want to retain some ownership stake going forward. The project will run from Central Park to West Village to DSA to the DAP. About a third of the proposed space will come from extant historic structures which are in various states of readiness for occupancy, and the rest will come from infill of vacant lots and surface parking.

The PR material certainly invokes the ATC, but this project will lean more heavily on new construction. They’ve got a map in PDF form over at WRAL, and I’ve used that to fill in the footprint on google maps (more or less). Retained historic structures are highlighted in green, non-historic but completed structures in red; everything else will be used for new construction:


At first blush, I can tell you one thing that makes me excited: they’re going to kill off a massive chunk of surface parking and replace it with decks. A lot of those lots seem completely expendable. My only minor concern is the loss of the Farmer’s Market lot on Morris St., and I hope they can continue to provide free or cheap parking for the Market going forward.

The plan calls for the preservation of several historic structures, some of which are already in use. The Carmichael Warehouse, the Brodie Duke warehouse, the Imperial Building, the BC building, and the Power House will all be retained (Carmichael already is leased by Duke; I’m unclear on the others). Everything else will be new construction (save for the already completed but seemingly vacant generic office building on Hunt known as “Morris Ridge”).

Several structures aren’t going to survive. There are two small commercial / light industrial buildings across from the DAP that will be demolished. There are three houses on Morris that look like they’re going to be demolished; two of them look extremely run down and one seems to house Burke-Little & Associates. The Young Roofing Company building also looks like it’s getting the axe, as is the DPS building at the corner of Hunt and Morriss.

The two curious residential properties on Liggett are also going away, and that’s the site of “proposed public park.” I’m unclear on the fate of the weird light industrial building on that block that seems to still exist in the plans for some reason.

I’d say I’m tentatively optimistic right now. The first “phase” of construction looks like it will involve demo of the structures on Liggett St. to make way for the park, demo of the DPS building, and its replacement with two new office buildings and new parking on that block in the extreme southeast of the project. Presumably they’ll also work on road realignment at this time.

Reading between the lines, I don’t think they’re in any hurry to get this all done. The phased approach will allow them to build out at a pace that matches demand.

This project will be worth keeping an eye on; it’s exciting to see a focus on office space rather than just slamming down more residential. All those people will need to work somewhere, you know…

4 thoughts on “What is this “Durham Innovation District” thing?”

  1. I like the focus on places to work also and not just more residential. Longfellow appears to be a major player based on their work up in Boston. One quibble: the google map above has the purple shading stopping mid-block, which would leave the block-long greenspace in tact, but the link to the map you provide has this space built out as office. I suspect the map is right – Hank Sherrick proposed building this space out with residential a few years before the real estate bubble popped. That, I think, is why the plan includes a park deeper in its bowels. I also have to wonder if Mr. Young of Young Roofing has finally capitulated to Mr. Sherrick in this regard. I know he held out for quite some time in his good-natured crotchety manner. If so, I suspect he wrestled quite a sum from the octogenarian, as Sherrick is reported to have paid Steve Peters north of a million bucks for one of the run down houses on Morris you refer to. Just some fun real estate rumors…

    1. Are you looking at the green space up above the Farmer’s Market? The way I read their map they’re leaving that wooded area alone. There’s kind of a ridge there between the Farmer’s Market and the parking lot. I’m basing my map by looking at where their plans are drawn in relation to Roney St. and “Morris Ridge”, FWIW, but I’ll readily admit that I could be wrong in this regard.

      Sounds like those holdouts have scored quite a windfall. Rather forward looking to hold onto those properties, considering how things looked here a decade ago…

      1. Ah, okay! I think you’re right ~ it’s hard to tell since the pdf doesn’t extend Roney St along side of the FM. Hopefully that is Farmer’s Market/DCP land and will remain wooded. It will be a needed greenspace after this wave of build-outs.

  2. Sorry for a very late reply, I just found recently learned about your blog. Let me clarify a few things.

    The plan is to leave the area just west of the Farmer’s Market as is.A residential building (about 30 units is planned for the spot just east of the Measurement Building(that’s the building your refer to as Morris Ridge) on Hunt street. That will go as far east as Roney.

    The Measurement building is hardly vacant. In fact it is 100% occupied. Measurement Inc occupies about 50% of the space and the rest is rented. Likewise, the Imperial, BC and Brodie Duke buildings are also fully occupied. Duke rents space in Imperial. Most of the space in those buildings is occupied by Measurement Inc.

    The old DPS building will be demolished. A parking deck is going to be constructed on the Roney street side(that should be the first structure going up) followed by office buildings across Morris from Imperial.

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