American Tobacco gets second wind

American Tobacco gets second wind

Staff WriterJune 8, 2005 

Durham dignitaries pushed an old-fashioned dynamite detonator Tuesday to symbolically blow open the next phase of the American Tobacco redevelopment project with an explosion of streamers and a sonic blast from the old factory's whistle.

Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Co., said the first phase of the landmark redevelopment is almost complete, with nearly all of its office and retail space under lease. He then announced that the next phase of construction, which encompasses four historic buildings at the northern end of the old factory complex and $65 million in additional private investment, will begin this summer.

The newest section will feature 62 apartments and residential lofts aimed at helping to ensure the massive downtown development is a 24-hour hub of activity. It was also announced that Duke University's internationally renowned Corporate Education program will serve as a major new tenant.

"It's not just that we've leased phase I. It's who's here," a beaming Goodmon said before rattling off the names of biotech, advertising and venture capital firms. "The synergy, the attitude of the people working here, it's exciting."

Totaling more than 1 million square feet spread over 17 acres, American Tobacco is the largest historic preservation project ever in North Carolina. The city and county governments invested a combined $43 million in the project to build two parking decks, and Mayor Bill Bell and commissioners' Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow each had a hand on the ceremonial plunger.

"Now we have a showplace in downtown Durham," Reckhow said. "It has been a great public-private partnership."

Originally, American Tobacco's second phase was to focus almost exclusively on residential units, but Goodmon said further study of the buildings showed some were not ideal for that purpose. Prices for the rental apartments and the for-sale lofts were not disclosed, though they were described as "work-force housing."

Most of the residences will be in the Old Bull building, which opened as a factory in 1874 and later served as the headquarters of the tobacco conglomerate whose signature cigarette brand was Lucky Strike.

More housing planned

A future phase of the project, Goodmon said, will build homes on what is now a parking lot across Blackwell Street from the old factories and north of Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

"We are not doing as much residential in phase II as I had hoped," said Goodmon, whose company owns the American Tobacco campus, the Durham Bulls baseball team, WRAL-TV and other broadcast stations. "When we get across the street to phase III, we're talking 400 to 500 units."

Capitol will partner with a Baltimore developer -- Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. -- to develop the remaining buildings. That company is responsible for several of the large, high-profile historic redevelopments along Baltimore's waterfront.

"We're very much about making downtown Durham the center of the universe," said Bill Struever, a partner at the company. "What we like are challenges -- places where great things can happen. ... We believe in investing in the community."

To underscore that sentiment, Struever announced a $50,000 challenge pledge to build a shelter for the farmers market at Durham Central Park and another $50,000 for the city's summer jobs program. Struever said he hoped some teens from the program could gain experience working on the American Tobacco project.

Once reviled in the Bull City for a scheme to move its minor league baseball team to Wake County, Goodmon was universally praised by Durham's community leaders Tuesday as if the Raleigh native were an adopted son. They mingled in the sweltering heat at the groundbreaking event, munching on catered hors d'oeuvres.

"Jim Goodmon is the Kevin Bacon of North Carolina," quipped Duke Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III, referring to the party game where every celebrity can be connected to the movie star with less than six degrees of separation. "Everything good that is happening here, he seems to have a hand in it."

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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