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Golden Belt: Previewing the complex's apartments and artist lofts

Img_1478 I've been driving down East Main Street for a few months checking out the happenings at the Golden Belt campus, where an old manufacturing plant from Durham's bright-leaf tobacco heyday churned out tobacco paper/packaging and cloth bags.

Andy Rothschild's Scientific Properties bought the complex from the Durham Housing Authority in 2006 with the intent of transforming the former industrial complex into a creative center for Durham, including residential spaces, artist lofts, commercial office, shops, and dining/entertainment space.

I had a chance to tour the complex earlier this week courtesy of Audra Ladd and Kristin Brewer of Scientific Properties. Construction is proceeding well, and Scientific Properties expects to open the complex to its first tenants and lessees by late May or early June.

During the walkthrough, I was blown away both by the progress that has been made to date and, more significantly, by the combination of Golden Belt's very unique space characteristics and the clear vision Scientific is bringing to the project.

Durham's been blessed with the adaptive re-use of many of the factories and warehouses that comprise the city's tobacco and textiles history, of course, from Brightleaf Square a quarter-century ago to the recent work at American Tobacco and West Village.

But many of these projects have used the old structures as shells into which to build out modern spaces that could, in the absence of an historic building, be shoehorned into new construction, too.

Img_1496 What's so amazing about Golden Belt is the way that the project's mission and vision -- an arts-focused creative center -- both blends so perfectly with the factory's unique architecture and is supported so well by the design and interior planning decisions the Scientific Team has made.

You see, the Golden Belt factories are blessed with an abundance of natural light thanks to the unique monitor windows in the center of many buildings' roofs (see at right), providing bright illumination in the structures even now, in the absence of installed artificial light.

And Scientific has found innovative ways to channel this light into interior spaces to create truly unique work and living spaces.

Next week, we'll take a look at the commercial, retail and entertainment spaces under construction Golden Belt. Today, we'll focus on the residential and artist loft spaces that are at the heart of the project's creative vision.


Before we look at those spaces, though, let's start with an overview of the project. Golden Belt is located at the corner of East Main Street and Elizabeth St. at downtown's edge, minutes away from the city center, American Tobacco, and the Durham Freeway. The site plan below shows the general re-use plan for the complex's southern buildings. The northernmost building has been in use for some time as a light manufacturing facility, though as we'll talk about on Monday, its presence (at the top of the site plan) still helps to frame out one of Golden Belt's most important outdoor spaces.

Building 3 forms the core of the artist studio spaces, while Building 6 houses the "live/work apartments." You don't have to be an artist, writer, or photographer to live in one of the residential units -- but the apartments' design certainly provides unique benefits to this market, as the apartments each have interior study space with overhead natural light.

Visitor parking is located on the southeast corner of the site, between the cafe/music space, commercial/retail, and residential/studio spaces. Tenant parking is located in the larger, northern parking lot, while overflow parking for special events is just offsite across Belt Street.

Golden Belt sits in the heart of Durham's revitalization. The Hosiery Mills senior apartments across the street were one of Durham's early historic re-use projects, dating to the 1980s. Meanwhile, the Hope VI project has added significantly improved market rate and affordable housing as neighbors on the western and southern edges of Golden Belt, while Habitat for Humanity and other non-profits are active in restoring residential buildings on Golden Belt's eastern side, the old Edgemont mill village community.

Gary has more on the history of Golden Belt over at his Endangered Durham blog (from which I've snagged the great full-color site plan.)


The area between Building 3 and Building 6 provides a small courtyard and will serve to provide individual fenced terraces for the apartments on the north side of the residential building. In this photo, the artist work spaces and part of the commercial/retail space are visible to the left, with residential units under construction to the right.


Scientific is building out 35 artist studios in Building 3, ranging from 168 to 648 sq. ft. in size. Each studio will have walls to provide some space separation, but the walls won't rise to the top of the 14' ceilings in the old factory building. From a purely practical perspective, this allows common air conditioning/heating for the whole space; it also allows studios to benefit from the natural light streaming in from the building's exterior and the monitor windows in the roof.


Just as importantly, however, this design is central to creating a sense of community and activity within the space; the sound and sense of artists at work should permeate the space and lead to the kind of interactions that happen best when you create a shared space where colleagues have a chance to talk and work together. The developer also plans an artist-in-residence program for the space and expects to open up the facility for art shows and other public events.


A gallery space is slated for the center of the building. Twenty of the 35 studios have already been leased to artists; rental rates for the remaining units run from $250 to $850 per month, inclusive of utilities.

Across the alleyway sits Building 6 and its 37 loft-style apartments. Most of the units feature mezzanine-style sleeping areas above a living/dining area; twelve of the units on the north side of the building will have outdoor terraces that lead into the apartment, as shown in the framing present in the under-construction units.


One of the more unique features of the Golden Belt apartments is their inclusion of working studio space within each unit. These spaces are located on the interior wall of each unit; while in most urban apartments this would make these areas the darkest, dimmest part of the apartment, the use of internal glass windows to allow light to stream through from the rooftop monitor lights makes these studios an attractive feature of each unit.

The elevation rendering of the larger extended loft shown below demonstrates the benefits of the arrangement. Kitchen, bath and living room sit on the unit's ground floor, accessible from an interior hallway or, for terrace units, from the outdoors. The loft area above holds a sleeping area as well as a studio, with a slanting ceiling with glass windows providing light through the roof.


In the slightly smaller "floating loft," the studio is located on the unit's first floor and features the same glass ceiling to provide light; the bedroom area will also feel translucent glass to bring light into the sleeping space.


Here's an under-construction floating loft, looking from the sleeping area southward over the two-story study.



Reversing the view, the sleeping area faces out towards the building's exterior and its floor-to-ceiling windows. In keeping with the Golden Belt project's work towards attaining LEED certification as a green-build program, the windows in each residential unit will have Hunter Douglas solar-shading screens designed to let light in but not out -- preserving privacy while also minimizing the need for residents to use electric light during the daytime.


Two large corner units are available on the east end of Building 6; these 1,200 sq. ft. units offer massive windows on two walls and can be configured if needed to house two bedrooms instead of one. Note the plumbing stub-outs for the kitchen to be built in this unit.


The basement level of Building 6 is under consideration for a number of uses, including possibly as rented space for artists' or writers' collectives seeking shared space for community and work. Residential uses are also a possibility given the presence of some natural light, though more challenging given the lower ceiling heights on the bottom level.

Across the apartments, dishwashers, solid-surface countertops, stainless steel appliances, washer/dryer connections, and polished concrete floors are standard in the units, while low-flow showers, dual-flush toilets and low-VOC paint will contribute to the building's green positioning.

Indoor storage units and bicycle parking will be provided along with a fitness center targeted for the building's first floor. Scientific is hoping to attract a Pilates or yoga studio to move in adjacent to the on-site gym.

The 890 sq. ft. floating lofts will lease for $850/month (terrace units are $75/mo. extra), while the almost 1,000 sq. ft. extended lofts list for $975-$1,025/month. The two large corner units are slated to lease at $1,300/month. Apartments are expected to be available for occupancy when the complex opens in late May/early June.

I'm still struck by the transformation of this facility. This is a great example for what adaptive re-use can and should be: creative, preservation-minded, and inclusive. And it's a great example furthermore of Durham's revitalization happening on the eastern periphery of downtown, a region too-often neglected by private-sector investors.

Check back on Monday for a look at the office, retail and dining spaces.




Go Scientific!

Durham's lucky to have these folks.

andy shull

While the vision of this project should certainly be attributed to Andy Rothschild and Scientific Properties, I wanted also to mention that behind the scenes there is also a very talented team of dedicated designers and engineers who have worked very hard to make this project a reality. Among them, C.T. Wilson Construction, Belk Architecture, CLH Design, D.I.R.T. Studios, Bryant Durham Electric, Lee Air Conditioning, Acme Plumbing, and an even larger team of great subcontractors who have been on site daily, working extremely hard to get the project up and running in a timely fashion.

Finally, the Durham Planning, Inspections, and Engineering Departments have all been extremely helpful in working with the Project Team to overcome inevitable hurdles associated with such a comprehensive and complex adaptive reuse project.

Andy Shull
Belk Architecture


The location and magnitude of this complex underscores the need for a streetcar/trolley along the Main Street corridor, the so-called "spine" by which so many workplaces, neighborhoods and entertainment spots are attached. Imagine a fixed route from Alston Ave to Erwin Square, linking East Durham, Golden Belt, the central business district, current/future transport centers, West Village, Brightleaf, East Campus and the Broad/9th St area. Something like the "Old Bull River" trolleybus (does that thing run anymore?) but it could run at night too, so if Cosmic Cantina is too far to walk (or stumble) to from the Federal or Bull McCabes, an Old School Burrito is not out of reach. Call me crazy, but I think it just might work, especially once there are living, breathing human beings in the Golden Belt and in West Village phase II.


Check out the generous State of NC tax credits for rehab projects like this. Not everyone can participate in a project of this scale, but some of the same credits taken here, are available to residential real estate in Durham.

Check out Durham's National Register Historic Districts:

Watts Hospital/Hillandale
Duke Park
Lakewood Park
Trinity Park
Old North Durham
Much of East Durham
Much of Downtown Durham
& as I understand it, Burch Ave is in the process of applying.

Imagine being able to get 30% of the costs of your HVAC, plumbing, carpentry, materials & labor back. The process is not hard to apply for, and can make a real difference in making a project economically viable. These credits apply to architecturally contributing properties in National Register Historic District like those above. I proudly tell others that I haven't had a State of NC tax liability for the past 2 years, and will continue NOT having one for the next 3. I've completed my rehab work, and am reaping the economic benefits of these credits.

If anyone wants to learn more about how these work for you, feel free to email me at These credits are making a difference in my neighborhood, and all over Durham & North Carolina.



Hope Valley is on the State Study List for a National Register listing, with a review date hopefully this summer, and a listing date of late fall.

John Schelp

West Durham and the Ninth Street shopping area have been a National Register Historic District since 1986. For income-producing properties, an increase from 5% to 20% in the existing state tax credit for rehabilitations of income-producing historic properties that also qualify for the 20% federal investment tax credit. In effect, the combined federal-state credits reduce the cost of a certified rehabilitation of an income-producing historic structure by 40%.

Plus, you can now apply for the tax credit AFTER you're done. This is new (and gives the property owner more flexibility).

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