How RTP, NC Universities Are Remaking Themselves in the City

Jan. 14, 2015

The American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham, N.C., has transformed several blocks of century-old factories into an entrepreneurial playground of offices, apartments, restaurants, retail stores and meeting spaces – and Duke University has made itself central to this campus’ success.

Duke’s evident success downtown comes at a time when university-affiliated research parks are rethinking their futures. While many of the nation’s university-affiliated research parks were built on open land miles from cities and campuses – the Central Florida Research Park adjacent to UCF being an exception – they’re now seeing a need to remake themselves and rely “as much on quality-of-life factors as on raw scientific firepower,” a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education finds.

The article further explains the attraction of the downtown American Tobacco Campus as a vibrant place for current Research Triangle Park tenants and Duke University:

“Down the road, in downtown Durham, N.C., the abandoned remnants of a once-mighty tobacco industry have experienced a high-tech revival over the past decade. The showcase example is the longtime home of the American Tobacco Company—several blocks of century-old brick factories that have been transformed into an entrepreneurial playground of offices, apartments, restaurants, retail stores, and meeting spaces.

The epitome of urban and trendy, the American Tobacco Campus development features interiors of open atriums, sleek metal framing, and exposed wooden beams. It has an outdoor amphitheater, tree-lined pedestrian pathways, and a quarter-mile-long cascading waterway that leads to the newly rebuilt home field of minor-league baseball’s iconic Durham Bulls.

Duke University, recognizing its deep stake in the health of downtown Durham, has made itself essential to the success of the American Tobacco Campus, said one of the project’s founders, Michael J. Goodmon. Duke relocated offices from its campus to provide a base of tenants in the project’s founding days of 2004, then essentially shrank or expanded its rental presence as needed in the following years to ensure that the development survived and then thrived, Mr. Goodmon said.

At first, the university had to recruit Duke workers for the site, said Scott F. Selig, the university’s associate vice president for capital assets and real estate. Now, even researchers with labs on the campus want to be downtown, attracted by greater lunch options and a hipper vibe, Mr. Selig said.

‘We have more people asking to come downtown than we do asking to go back to campus, by far,’ he said. ‘I don’t have to pick up the phone anymore—they’re generally calling me.'”

Read the entire article on the Chronicle’s site.