On Friday, we took a look at the 37 apartment units and the 35 artist lofts available at Golden Belt, the important adaptive reuse redevelopment project taking shape on E. Main St. just to the east side of downtown. Today, we'll look at the remaining buildings in the Golden Belt project and their planned uses -- as commercial office space, retail, and dining, including (the developer anticipates) a space for live music or other entertainment.
To make sense of the mission and vision for these spaces, though, it's important to understand the project in the context of its arts focus. Scientific Properties' past projects include the redevelopment of 401 Foster Street after Andy Rothschild's purchase of the Venable -- and the resulting inevitable displacement of a number of local artists when redevelopment began -- created an awareness for the need for arts-focused space in Durham, as the Indy noted in this January 2007 article.
The development team for Golden Belt reports that is has been reaching out to artists and the arts community both here in Durham and in more established arts centers like New York, San Francisco, L.A., and Boston, among other major metros. No matter what the audience, though, Scientific has expressed an interest in working with tenants and entities beyond the corporate that dominate the scene in so many developments.
Unlike the vast majority of developers, who approach tenancy from a perspective of finding proven, high-revenue tenants wherever possible, Scientific maintains it's looking at providing opportunities and space for small businesses, design pros, and restaurateurs that may not yet be established, but which are looking for opportunities to succeed.
Unconventional? Sure. Surprising? Not in the least. After all, it's the result of a perfect compatibility between Golden Belt's presence as the largest-scale private sector redevelopment in East Durham and its arts mission.
Practically speaking, a redevelopment project in an emerging area like East Durham isn't likely to attract demographics-driven national chains. To that end, artists are a natural target market for a development at Main and Elizabeth.
At the same time, as we talked about last week, the architecture of the Golden Belt complex is very well-suited to artists, with the abundance of natural light and the opportunity for affordable studio space.
Once you draw those artists -- and with half the artist studios leased, Scientific is well on its way -- what comes next? How about art galleries, a natural retail use for artists who can produce and then sell work on-site (and live there if they choose?) After all, the local buyers as well as the out-of-town fly-in buyers starting to discover the Durham market would be attracted to a large venue like Golden Belt, making galleries a natural driver of retail space.
And with a critical mass of artists, residents and visitors on site -- not to mention extremely ample surface parking -- the presence of live music or other entertainment is a natural. Such diversions are in short supply in the Bull City, but Golden Belt has a chance to succeed in this area by taking advantage of its arts-centric, creative theming. Ditto outdoor festivals and concerts, which as we'll see in a moment, the space is perfectly suited to house.
Want boutique shopping or fine dining? That's Brightleaf Square. Funky shops? Ninth Street is your thing. National chains? Southpoint. In a similar vein, Golden Belt has a chance to define itself uniquely as a destination for the arts and culture in Durham, and to do so in a way that adds value for its residents and tenants while simultaneously encouraging them to locate there.
Everyone talks about mixed-use, and almost everyone complains that mixed-use rarely creates a real synergy between the uses. How many people wake up in their apartment, walk down the development's sidewalk to their office, and then catch a show on property that night? Quite few. Yet in Golden Belt, there's a very real possibility that apartment dwellers will also rent studio space, and maybe go in together on some gallery space.
There's a certain audacity to Scientific's positioning. It's untraditional, and at the same time, completely Durham. This idea would never fly in Raleigh -- which is probably one of the reasons I suspect Durhamites are so excited to see the results.
On with the tour; let's look again at the site plan.
Building 2 is one of the centerpieces of the entire project, literally and figuratively. It's one of the most visible buildings from street level, and is immediately adjacent to the visitor's parking, which is located between the building and Building 7 to its south.
Building 2 is shown at right from the visitor's parking lot, with Building 6 (apartments) to the right. The passageway in the center of Building 2 currently leads directly through to what's becoming tenant parking; Scientific plans to construct a fully air-conditioned glass lobby where this passageway is currently located.
Scientific is proposing ground level retail for the first floor -- and to the western side of Building 2, the second floor, as the grade level rises to make that the actual ground-level space. Keeping with the theme of the campus, Scientific describes the goal for the on-site retail as "unique, design-savvy retail serving artists and the arts community;" ideal tenants from Scientific's perspective could include craft or fine arts galleries, a bead shop, arts supply store, or high-end frame shop, among others. Rents start at $14 per square foot per year, which compares favorably with much less compelling strip-mall options elsewhere in the Triangle.
On the remaining floors, Scientific is looking to lease out space to commercial office tenants. The developer won an RFP with the City of Durham last year to lease out a significant amount of space to the city's Community Development and Neighborhood Improvement Services departments; expect this department to be in the first wave of tenants moving into Golden Belt come late spring.
Building 2 is gorgeous inside, especially in its current pre-drywall configuration. Seems doubtful that a tenant would take up an entire quarter of a floor or so and maintain the great natural light without division, but it's always possible to hope.
On the eastern side of Building 2, note the original pulleys remaining in place near the roofline.
Construction continues apace on a lower floor of Building 2.
Finally, a view of the north side of Building 2, as viewed from the under-construction tenant's parking lot.
One of the very interesting elements of the Golden Belt site plan lies in what the spaces under construction might be used for from time to time, as opposed to necessarily every day. Take the tenant's parking lot, for instance. Expect to see it serve as automobile parking most days of the year -- but also look for it to transform into an outdoor event or festival space from time to time, too. One could imagine a future Centerfest, or perhaps Taste of Durham, taking place in this space.
As it happens, the tenant's parking lot's western side is comprised of a tall retaining wall-style structure that holds back the higher grade from the railroad tracks and Elizabeth St., all of which combines with the tall Golden Belt factory buildings to make an outdoor amphitheater. The western wall will be reconfigured to create a space usable as a stage, much like the base of the Lucky Strike water tower at American Tobacco.
On the south side of the visitor's parking lot sits a squat 1950s structure that had served as an office building for the Golden Belt manufacturing facility back in the day. Scientific has earmarked this space for a cafe or restaurant featuring live music, taking advantage of the building's location closest to Main St. The current plan is to raise the roof on a portion of the building to accommodate a performance stage in the 8,500 sq. ft. space. Scientific's representatives note that discussions are ongoing over possible tenants for this and the other retail and commercial spaces in the complex.
Building 5, on the eastern side of the complex, has been designated for "industrial arts" -- a sculpture or woodworking space, perhaps, or even a creative-style office space for the right tenant. The 5,800 sq. ft. space already has some loading dock access, making it ideal for larger scale art and even creative industrial uses.
The adjacent Building 4 is the only structure that the Durham Housing Authority managed to renovate during their ownership of the site. A job training center currently on the first floor is slated to move to an upper level shortly; Scientific intends to offer the built-out floor that the training center is leaving behind to local non-profits in need of office space.
Thanks again to the folks at Scientific for offering up a preview of their work in progress. We'll look to provide updates as the project nears its May/June occupancy timeframe.