For a glimpse of Durham startups on the rise, look down.

Underground@Main is now open for entrepreneurs looking for space and support as they build their businesses.

It’s the second American Underground location. Capitol Broadcasting already operates American Underground at the American Tobacco Campus in what was formerly a tobacco plant. Now Underground@Main takes over parts of the ground and basement floors of the Self-Help Credit Union Building at 201 W. Main Street.

American Underground is operated by Capitol Broadcasting, which owns the American Tobacco Historic District and is also parent to WRALTechWire. To differentiate between the two Underground locations, the American Tobacco site is now called Underground@American Tobacco.

Both sites serve startups but the American Tobacco location is for bigger companies employing as many as 30 people, said Adam Klein, chief strategist of the American Underground. Underground@Main is intended for smaller startups of between one and five workers. Startups can get into the space for $199 a month. Rates for students and recent graduates are just $79 a month.

“Our model is built on flexibility and affordability,” Klein said.

Constructing startup space

Underground@Main opened on June 1 and it takes up about 22,000 square feet. The space was built over the course of four months with partners Duke University, Durham Chamber of Commerce, NC IDEA and the RTP Foundation and Self-Help. Over the years, the space served several different tenants including a department store and later a bank. In fact, the bank vault was left intact which Klein said adds to the character of the space while also retaining a connection to the building’s history.

There are other quirks to the space, elements that were not necessarily part of the original construction. Visitors to Underground@Main are greeted by “Officer Big Mac” suspended from the ceiling right beside the doors into the Underground@Main space. In its previous life, the relic was part of a McDonald’s restaurant playground set. American Underground bought the Big Mac mascot on e-Bay.

Officer Big Mac presides over the the stairway leading down to the Underground’s space. For a faster route below, patrons can also take a slide. The slide leads down to recreational space featuring the usual lounging space and kitchen amenities found in many startup and co-working environments. But this space also features 1980s video games that are free to all Underground occupants. Klein says that there’s a running contest among some of the members competing for high score.

Even some of the technology in the space reminds users of startups. Conference rooms can be reserved electronically, ether online or by using iPad displays placed on the outside of each room. The screen displays the schedule for the room and who has reserved it. The technology was developed by Cambridge, Mass. startup Roomzilla.

Fostering business connections

There are about 100 startups in Durham, according to the Durham chamber. Seventy five of them are in the American Underground including 40 in Underground@Main. Klein says that even though Underground now has two separate locations, the plans include an effort to foster community and interaction between the two sites as well as connections with the rest of the business community. For example, the Council for Entrepreneurial Development will hold regular office hours at both sites in order to give advice to companies and provide a link to valuable business connections. There will also be less formal interactions, including twice monthly beer socials that will alternate between the two sites. In addition to providing a physical space for companies to work, it’s also important to spark chemistry among companies and partners, Klein explained.

“Creating a physical space where you have 75 startups within a couple of blocks of each other will help that happen,” Klein said.

Underground@Main will be hosting an opening party on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Attendance is limited to 300 people. To RSVP, go to