American Tobacco Historic District
North Carolina| Posted: 09/09/2006
With vision, determination, experience, and talent, Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC) rehabilitated one of North Carolina`s most important industrial landmarks, the American Tobacco Historic District (AT). The complex is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After 113 years, American Tobacco Company abandoned its Durham facility in 1987. The factory had marketed the first national tobacco brand (Bull Durham) and became internationally known as the manufacturer of Lucky Strikes. The eleven vacant buildings on the sixteen-acre campus became a highly visible eyesore that blighted Durham`s civic image. When the Durham Bulls moved to a new baseball stadium across from the complex, large crowds viewed the derelict buildings summer after summer.
After three years of extensive planning, CBC bought the 1,000,000 square foot property in 1998, envisioning a mixed-use development. The campus features a restored smokestack and water tower and a quarter-mile-long "river" through the courtyard. The project is transforming Durham, bringing people downtown and sparking the redevelopment of other historic buildings.
A positive impact on the community
American Tobacco is a destination where people come to live, work and play. Today more than 600,000 square feet is complete, with offices, restaurants, and community institutions. So far, 43 tenants have moved to the campus resulting in 94% occupancy of Phase 1. The tenants include prominent local employers and many of the "creative class" companies that are important to the revitalization of downtown Durham. Overall, the project is bringing 3,000 new permanent jobs to downtown. AT is much more than an office complex as people are drawn to have coffee, eat lunch, grab a beer before a Bulls` game, or attend a public concert in the courtyard. The remaining 300,000 square feet of historic buildings are currently under renovation into residential, retail, and additional office space.
The project has become a catalyst for downtown Durham`s revival. Downtown vacancy rates have dropped from 17.9% in 2004 to 11.9% by the end of 2005. A number of historic buildings are now under renovation and new construction is being planned. One major project will convert seven tobacco warehouses into residential condos, a new Amtrak station, retail, office, and lab space. A long-discussed new performing arts theater will now become a reality next door. This development has created the beginnings of a 24/7 newly revitalized downtown Durham.
A complex and difficult project
The quality of American Tobacco lies within its rare timeline heritage architecture representing an industrial evolution from 1874 to 1987. Few opportunities offer this high architectural integrity, and fewer still retain the campus integrity following rebirth. The shear immensity and fortress nature of this elegant contiguous historic campus presented the most difficult challenge. CBC created inviting entrances and pathways to penetrate the industrial mass, leading to varied comfortable areas for work, play, and tranquil respite.
A pioneering project
This project is the largest historic rehabilitation project in North Carolina. Notable because of its size, its national historic significance, and its impact, the $200 million development is a shining example of the beneficial role of adaptive use of industrial heritage in rebuilding a local economy.
North Carolina has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs in tobacco, textiles, and furniture during the last two decades. Hundreds of historic industrial factories are vacant. The AT project has become the "success story" model for proposed state legislation that would increase tax incentives for the reuse of historic industrial property.
Several other tobacco warehouses had previously been renovated in Durham. These are now popular sites for dining, shopping, offices and loft apartments. Because of AT`s prominence and visibility, however, it has been viewed differently by the media and general public as the critical turning point for a struggling city center becoming a thriving downtown once again.
A partnership effort
This complex project was the result of a partnership of private, public, and non-profit organizations. Private-sector partners included CBC as developer and Bank of America as tax credit investor. Durham County and City provided over $30 million for the construction of two parking decks. The A.J. Fletcher Foundation provided $4.75 million for land purchase. Self-Help, a local non-profit community development lender, provided $40 million in financing. The final development phase is in partnership with Streuver Bros., Eccles and Rouse of Baltimore. This unique and successful partnership proved to be a key ingredient in the success of this project, and in garnering the support of the community at large.
A complex and risky project, the renovation of the American Tobacco campus is uplifting historic downtown Durham and serving as a much-needed model of industrial reuse throughout North Carolina and the South.
For more information contact:
Capitol Broadcasting Company
324 Blackwell Street, Suite 500
Durham, North Carolina 27701