With the opening of so many new restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues downtown in the last few years, it's possible to forget the years in which downtown Durham was a veritable wasteland, a dead spot of energy where no businesses were interested in setting down roots.
While everyone from local governments to Downtown Durham Inc. chipped in towards improving the city's core, non-profit financial institution Self-Help has long deserved -- and earned -- special credit. (Recent devotees of the Bull City may not know this nugget of history, but the prospects for downtown were once considered so bad that less than a decade ago, cash-rich, privately-owned Capitol Broadcasting couldn't get a conventional loan for the American Tobacco project, leading Self-Help to step in and save the day.)
Besides lending, Self-Help has a successful history of rehabbing a number of buildings in the downtown core, from structures on both sides of the Main/Corcoran intersection to the gorgeous building a block to the west that's the home of the Center for Responsible Lending. And they've typically made these office spaces available to a range of businesses and non-profits.
Now Self-Help has teamed up with Chapel Hill-based non-profit MDC to purchase the historic John Sprunt Hill building, a beautiful Georgian Revival structure on W. Main St. between Self-Help's headquarters and the Five Points district.
The Hill building -- this one a four-story midrise with a stone façade, not the SunTrust/CCB tower that aspires to someday become a hotel -- was long a department store and clothier; rehabbed in the mid-90s, it's sat vacant for most of this decade.
But MDC, a non-profit that grew out of Terry Sanford's famous North Carolina Fund, is relocating its headquarters back to Durham, partnering with Self-Help in a deal that, we're told, sees Self-Help buying ($1.4m) and rehabbing ($800k) the 16,000 sq. ft. structure, then leasing it back to MDC in a deal that, we're told, will allow MDC to build equity in the project.
The top floor of 307 W. Main will become a conference and training center, consolidating some MDC training efforts that currently take place around the Triangle and in other states -- and, one wonders, possibly bringing more business travel to Durham.
The building's first floor -- which today is part of a largely dead spot between Five Points and the Main St. Pharmacy, broken up only by Heather Garrett's home store and, soon, Dolly's vintage store -- will be leased out, it sounds, as a retail outlet of some sort. Other parts of the first floor are expected to be incubator space for non-profit activities.
As part of Self-Help's rehab, additional windows (both external and transom) will be added to improve lighting, with a new HVAC system and several green features.
Meanwhile, the HQ relocation will bring 35 employees from Chapel Hill to the Bull City. According to a Self-Help/MDC press release:
MDC is a nonprofit that manages more than $25 million in programs that connect people with opportunity. It was founded in 1967 out of N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford’s North Carolina Fund to help workers in the transition from an agricultural to an industrial economy and from a segregated to an integrated workforce. Since then, it has evolved into an organization that publishes research and develops programs focused on defining gaps and mobilizing leaders to create a will for change; demonstrating sustainable solutions and developing them into effective models; and incubating them so they can be replicated at scale for maximum impact.
MDC currently is incubating Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, a national nonprofit organization that helps students stay in school and get certificates and degrees, particularly students of color and low-income students; its network today includes 130 institutions in 24 states and the District of Columbia (including Durham Technical Community College), reaching more than 1.6 million students.
MDC’s other current work includes: publication of The State of the South 2010-2011; the Work Supports Initiative, including the Benefit Bank of North Carolina; EITC Carolinas, a resource network to help communities assist low- and moderate-income working families during tax season to reclaim and keep their earnings; Career Pathways for a Green South, a $3.8 million, U.S. Department of Labor green jobs initiative; the Developmental Education Initiative, an $18 million effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education to scale-up developmental (remedial) education innovations in community colleges; and Partners for Postsecondary Success, a three-year demonstration project funded by the Gates Foundation to create community partnerships in four cities (including Raleigh and Charlotte) to significantly increase the number of low-income youth who complete postsecondary credentials. Visit www.mdcinc.org for more information.