Local News

Developers Breathe New Life into Durham Warehouses

Posted August 18, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT

— The tobacco companies that once dominated Durham's landscape are all but gone, but their warehouses remain. The city is trying to figure our what to do with those buildings.

Tamara Burrow is among more than 100 people who call the West Village Apartments home. The century-old brick buildings sat empty for years after Liggett and Myers Tobacco moved out.

Then, Blue Devil Ventures, a development group founded by Christian Laettner and other Duke basketball stars, stepped in.

"I guess we came across it in a newspaper ad about six months ago, and we knew from the start this is where we had to live. We love it," Burrow says.

The warehouses were converted into upscale apartments. Many of the architectural details like hardwood floors, brick walls and support beams were left intact. Old loading docks now serve as outdoor terraces.

"We are blessed in Durham to have the type of architecture we have downtown," says Ted Abernathy with Durham Economic Development. "It's interesting. It's something people want to be in."

As the presence of tobacco companies dwindles, abandoned buildings are finding new life as residential and retail space.

The trend began nearly 20 years ago, when warehouses once owned by the American Tobacco Company were transformed into the Brightleaf Square shopping center.

Capitol Broadcasting, WRAL's parent company, is planning todevelop more American Tobacco propertyinto downtown office and retail space.

Liggett and Myers will move out of the city's last working tobacco factory in September, and developers are already eyeing the property.

Abernathy says Durham can hold on to the past and stride toward the future.

"Now we're going to celebrate our heritage, but that day has passed, and Durham is moving forward to the city of medicine and high-tech community," he says.

Durham plans to build its transportation hub for trains and buses at one of the Liggett warehouses after the company moves its operations out of the city.