The year that's ending has been full of major news and happenings in and around downtown Durham, which continues to draw private investment and interest at levels unimaginable a decade ago, or even five years back. Today we'll look at some of the top downtown news items from this year -- specifically, those we're ranking as the sixth to tenth most significant downtown development and renewal happenings of the year. Coming tomorrow: the top five.
#10: Craig Davis Properties buys, improves the Durham Centre. The Durham Centre is a fixture on the local skyline, but has suffered in recent years from a rapidly eroding parking deck, ongoing questions about the air rights and future development on the western pad, and a worrisomely-high vacancy rate. The tower's purchase by Triangle-based Craig Davis Properties was a sign of new interest and renewal for the high-rise, one bolstered by announcements that CDP would invest over $1 million in tower refurbishment and would partner with the City to accelerate and improve the bond-funded deck renovations. Recent rumors that the tower may shortly lease up fully also make this deal seem to bode well for Davis.
#9: Bus and train improvements on the way. Transit news has been a bit anticlimactic in the Bull City and the region since the failure of TTA's Raleigh-to-Durham rail line to get Federal dollars through the New Starts program in the wake of Bush administration belt-tightening and new qualification criteria. Still, the end of 2007 brought some smaller-scale good news for transit in Durham. First, city officials held the groundbreaking for the Durham Station multi-modal (local and regional bus and taxi) station, located just west of the north parking deck at American Tobacco. The new station will be a marked improvement over the old huts at the Downtown Loop -- then again, what wouldn't be? Additionally, the on-again-off-again deal with NCDOT to move Durham's Amtrak station from its pathetic little trailer on the south side of the tracks into an 11,000 sq. ft. station in West Village's Walker building is again on track (no pun intended), which will provide a far more attractive and inviting option for travelers beginning or ending their travels in the Bull City.
#8: Downtown Durham Inc. releases updated downtown master plan. The jury's still out on all the details of the master plan -- which represents a major update to DDI's seven-year-old original vision for the central city area. The new plan, which notes the $775 million in actual or promised private investment in downtown since 2000, calls anew for a solution to the downtown loop, better connectivity between downtown's distal districts, and stands solidly in support of the growing movement by developers like Greenfire to rebuild pocket parks and parking lots to add denser mixed-use projects in the urban core. Look for this plan to generate some significant discussion in the new year.
#7: Downtown residential projects move forward. This year has seen significant action on downtown's development front, with the Durham Kress condo project wrapping up (and largely selling out), Trinity Lofts welcoming its first residents, and American Tobacco beginning the marketing of its apartment units for early 2008 occupancy. Mangum 506 has moved to the very edge of its groundbreaking, adding more mid-priced housing in downtown, while developer Denny Clark has floated plans for the Durham Credo project at Foster & Corporation by the old Durham Athletic Park and Durham Central Park. On the watchlist for 2008: the massive West Village Phase II renovations, which will ultimately add as many as 600 new apartments downtown. (On the down side -- or not, depending on your view of the projects' merits -- 2007 also represents the year when the Duke Studio Condos project seemingly got iced faster than Will Ferrell in 'Blades of Glory,' and when The Chancellory at Trinity Park went down to a Board of Adjustment defeat after a firestorm of debate in the adjacent neighborhood that continues to strain neighborly relations.)
#6: Major league renewal anchored by Minor League Baseball in the DAP district. The City's decision to move forward with the Durham Athletic Park renovations -- including finding $1 million extra in the couch cushions down at City Hall to supplement the $4 million passed in the 2005 bond funds -- represents a down payment on what looks to be a major revitalization around the old ballpark in coming years. Minor League Baseball has signed onto the project, agreeing to operate the old ballpark and use it as a training ground for umps, groundskeepers, and the like looking to get started in the sport. MiLB is moving ahead with conceptual planning and feasibility for opening a major tourist attraction in the district -- a Minor League Baseball national museum and fan experience center, which if realized would be a major attraction at a regional level -- and City leaders continue to lobby for the relocation of MiLB's headquarters and staff to the Bull City. At the same time, Durham Central Park continues to grow (including its new pavilion), while the southern part of the district starts to attract the arts and dining. Meanwhile, properties are changing hands quickly in the DAP district, which represents one of the last chances in downtown for local, smaller investors to acquire and renovate properties. I wouldn't be surprised to see a more unified voice from DAP-area developers to emerge in 2008.