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'Innovation District' coming to Durham's downtown

Guests were guided up to the second floor from the main entrance to Bay 47 at the Carmichael Building in downtown Durham for the debut Wednesday, October 1, 2014, of the newly refurbished two story former ca. 1926 Liggett & Myers tobacco warehouse unveiled as Class A research and lab space. The former tobacco warehouse at 300 N. Duke St. in downtown Durham is now part of a newly designated Durham Innovation District offering 1 million square feet of new laboratory space.
Guests were guided up to the second floor from the main entrance to Bay 47 at the Carmichael Building in downtown Durham for the debut Wednesday, October 1, 2014, of the newly refurbished two story former ca. 1926 Liggett & Myers tobacco warehouse unveiled as Class A research and lab space. The former tobacco warehouse at 300 N. Duke St. in downtown Durham is now part of a newly designated Durham Innovation District offering 1 million square feet of new laboratory space. hlynch@newsobserver.com

A development project totaling 1.7 million square feet and covering 15 acres of downtown real estate got a symbolic launching Wednesday in a former tobacco warehouse.

The Carmichael Building, built in 1926 as part of the Liggett & Myers cigarette-factory complex and recently renovated into office and laboratory space, is the first component of a "Durham Innovation District." Plans for the project call for it to eventually extend from Duke Street to Durham Central Park, serving enterprises in science, technology and combinations of the two.

Longfellow Real Estate Partners of Boston, which bought the former tobacco warehouse with several partners in 2013, is developing the district with Measurement Inc. of Durham. Measurement owns 12 of the 15 acres and four buildings that are to be included in the project area.

"We needed to partner with somebody to develop the rest of this area," said Hank Scherich, Measurement Inc.'s founder and president. "We had lots of suitors, I might say, who wanted to get a piece of our property.

"And when Longfellow came along, we negotiated a deal. ... We believe they have the resources, they have the reach."

Longfellow also bought and renovated the former Liggett and Myers laboratory at Main and Duke streets, and owns about 200,000 square feet in the Imperial Center near the Research Triangle Park. In June, the company donated $260,000 to support science, technology and mathematics programs of Durham Tech, Duke University's Talent Identification Program and the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

At Wednesday's event, local officials and business leaders toured the 112,000-square-foot Carmichael Building, on Duke Street across from Durham School of the Arts, where Duke University researchers were at work some laboratories while other labs and offices remained to be fitted out.

Duke, which has leased the entire Carmichael Building for life-science research, has been involved in the innovation district's planning from the start, according to Adam Sichol, a partner in Longfellow.

"We had a collaborative conversation with Duke about their off-campus research requirements and how by clustering ... those requirements in an urban location they could help draw other companies to the region and to downtown," Sichol said.

Most of the Carmichael is going to house the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, which is developing individualized approaches for treating chronic metabolic disorders such as heart and vascular diseases, arthritis and multiple sclerosis, said Deborah Muoio, the Institute's director.

"The institute is an example of the sort of collaboration an innovation district is meant to encourage, with experts in physiology, biology, computational biology, genetics and clinical medicine all ... housed under one roof with access to the most cutting edge technology platforms," Muoio said.

Scott Selig, Duke's associate vice president for real estate, said the university's hope is that the district becomes a place where other Triangle universities do all kinds of research.

"We want it to be technology; we want it to be big data; we want it to be all kinds of interactions day and night to make this truly a fun place to be," he said.

According to Longfellow's master plan, the Carmichael is actually part of the fourth and final phase of the Durham Innovation District, or "Durham.ID" as its developers have dubbed it. Phase 1 consists of two office/laboratory buildings on Morris Street, between Hunt Street and the Durham Centre parking deck, and a public park in the next block north on Morris.

Phase 2 consists of two more office/lab buildings on Morris Street, with parking; Phase 3 is three residential structures between the Duke Belt Line corridor and Morris Street; Phase 4 adds another office/lab building and parking structure in what is now the Carmichael parking lot.

Phase 1 construction could start next summer, Sichol said. In the meantime, the company is negotiating with the city and county on "a public-private partnership to collaborate on the infrastructure and some of the parking requirements. Similar to what American Tobacco did," he said.

Sichol said market demand will be the main factor determining how long it takes to build out Durham.ID.

"Believe it or not, we've already been responding to tenant proposals for space in some of the buildings in Phase 1," Sichol said. "There's also the grass-roots companies that are growing here in downtown. ... They're going to need space to grow.

"We don't anticipate building a lot of buildings on a speculative basis, but, from what we know of the market, the demand is going to be there."

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