Duke's unique partnership with City of Durham helps foster 'positive growth'

Posted May 18, 2018 6:23 p.m. EDT

— It's hard to miss the fact Duke is located in Durham while you are driving around the city.

You see signs for the university far outside the campus limits, but what may seem like a private school buying up space is actually quite the opposite. The city and university share a unique partnership that is helping Durham grow.

"(Duke) has been a major partner in that. It has been at the forefront of that for quite a while," said Nicole Thompson, chief executive officer for Downtown Durham Inc.

Duke leases more than 2.5 million square feet of office space and other multi-use spaces in the city of Durham, and the university pays property taxes on those spaces, something it is not required to do as a tax-exempt institution.

"We wanted to be able to contribute to Durham to contribute to the positive growth," said Duke Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Michael Schoenfeld.

The tax money paid by Duke amounts to $7 to $8 million a year. The University is also one of the first tenants to sign on with any new project. It has leased space in the American Tobacco Campus, Brightleaf Square and the brand new One City Center, which is set to open in late 2018.

Thompson said Duke is often key for securing funding for an idea.

"In a lot of cases Duke pre-leases the space, so because they are coming in and pre-leasing the space a lot of the projects can get done. They are then able to get the funding to complete the project," she said.

"The city and the university are inextricably linked," said Shoenfeld. "This is our home. This is Duke University's home."

Duke's latest endowment is listed at $7.9 billion which makes the university more than capable of paying a tax bill which wouldn't be affordable to most public universities. The gesture, however, does not go unappreciated by those who are hoping to continue to see Durham thrive.

Thompson called Duke "huge."

"It shows that they truly believe and they wanted to be a part of downtown's growth."