Downtown Durham, Inc.’s slogan captures the mood of the new Bull City.

“Downtown Durham: Find your cool,” the group says.

Many people have sought and found the “cool” while a growing number continue to do so, drawn in part by the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and a mix of restaurants, bars and cafes that fit the definition “eclectic.”  

Talk to Durham residents and they often will say the cultural appeal of downtown hasn’t lost its history – or flavors – as more businesses, new and rebuilt buildings, and more technology firms flock to the city’s center.

The mix helps the city drawn 2.2 million visitors a year, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce says. And the business rebirth (with higher office rent on average per square foot than Larger, according to Colliers International) led Colliers to label its latest report about the city as: “Downtown Durham. A Cool Pace to Be.”

And a recent “New Vitality Index” shows Durham’s growing strength as a hub for cultural employment.

Yet the heart of the city retains much of its appeal.

Travel “the World of Food” in One Place

“I love that the same things that made Durham undesirable in the late 90s – early 2000s is what make it so new and fresh right now. Durham was (and still is) unwilling to change for anyone,” says Tony Mackey, an executive at Square 1 Bank.

“Downtown Durham always had a local feel that was (and is) appealing.

“Many of the same watering holes have never left, they just welcomed the new generation in with open arms (just like the residents of Durham)!

“Golden oldies such as Fosters, Devines, Fishmonger’s, and Satisfaction (Note: If you have never heard of ANY of these places, you are new to Durham) gladly moved over to allow room for the new front runners, such as Watts Grocery, Mateo, Blu Seafood, 6 Plates, L’Uva… and so many more.

“Dirty Durham made farm to table dining fun, fresh, and chic. The Bull City showed Raleigh and Chapel Hill how each restaurants can play together and “share” to make an entire city a foodie playground!

“You can travel the world of food in the Bull City, without stamping your passport once.”

The downtown area features seven distinct “districts,” each with its own appeal, four with distinct links to the former tobacco town’s golden leaf past (*):

  • The American Tobacco Historic District*
  • City Center
  • The Government Services area
  • Central Park
  • Golden Belt*
  • Warehouse District*
  • Brightleaf*

Chelsea Lynam, office manager for Precision BioSciences, says Durham’s “cool” was a major reason why the biotech firm chose to move to downtown from RTP.

. “We wanted to be in downtown Durham to be closer to all the entrepreneurial activity, great restaurants, and activities like the ballpark and DPAC for our employees and business partners,” she says.

Mix of Old and New

Sarah Wheeler, who also works at Square 1, sees many changes occurring – and likes the mix.

“Downtown of the new Bull City shows the perfect juxtaposition of old and new,” she says. “Beautiful brick mills transformed into restaurants and shops give these businesses a unique feel.

“In most cases, the beautiful architecture was saved resulting in buildings with modern fixtures and beautiful exposed brick and wood.

“With the addition of new businesses all the time in areas like The Underground at American Tobacco Campus, the area is always busy and truly thriving.

“The continuous growth in population and job availability in the area over the past few years is a testament to the fact that Durham is becoming the new spot to start or grow your business. As a North Carolina native, I’m excited to see the growth in Durham over the past 10 years and even more excited to see where it will be 10 years from now.”

Lisa Jeffries, marketing manager for CBC New Media Group (of which WRALTechWire is part) commutes often to Durham from Raleigh – and has found many reasons to stick around after the business day ends.

“I’m a lifetime Raleigh resident myself, but if one can make non-9-5 hours work for their professional gig, the daily trip to Bull City affords a lot of opportunity for daily adventures outside of Wake County,” she says.

“A few of the opportunities that I would often take advantage of while working in Downtown Durham were things like shopping at independent retailers that didn’t have a presence in Raleigh, dining at eateries that have solidified the foodie culture in Durham, and also being conveniently already there for games at the DBAP (including the smaller, vintage park, if you will), shows at DPAC, and joining my cohorts who do call Durham home in an early evening cocktail after work at places like Whiskey, Bull McCabes, Fullsteam, etc.

“Hey,” she adds, “it’s better to grab a pint, dreaming up the next collaboration opportunity with other young professionals, to wait the rush hour traffic out than it is to sit on I-40 in traffic or catch all the stop lights along 70 through Durham, Brier Creek and the Crabtree areas.”

Mackey says outsiders and newcomers should expect the Bull City to keep its “cool.”

“The only requirement: Never change for anyone … they will come around,” Mackey says.

“And if not, just like the t-shirt says: Durham ain’t for Everyone.”