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Downtown Durham Undergoes Building Boom

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DURHAM, N.C. — Ask Woody Holliman why he moved his graphics design firm, Firewheel, into downtown Durham, and the answer comes easily.

"I heard about the other creative firms coming down here -- architect firms, ad agencies -- and this seemed like the place to be," said Holliman.

Holliman is excited about the other newcomers. Just a few doors down, a French restaurant and bakery will soon open up shop. There are already 37 places to eat in the area, and by summer's end, at least four more should be in business.

"I think this will eventually be a grittier, funkier version of Glenwood South in Raleigh," said Holliman.

Recent Triangle transplant Peter Berglund is considering the city life. He's looking at the newly refurbished Baldwin lofts.

"I want to have access to everything, restaurants and bars," said Berglund.

Right now, there are 700 people living in the downtown area. In two years, that number is expected to more than triple. And there will be plenty of places for the new residents to stay. More than 1,000 new residential units should open their doors by 2008.

"You're going to see a whole new retail environment and entertainment environment in the city center," said Downtown Durham president Bill Kalkoff.

Kalkoff said street level retail shops are also popping up and multiplying.

Despite the progress, Kalkoff said the city constantly battles a perception problem. A new program uses volunteer "ambassadors" at city events and festivals. Their job is to "sell" Durham.

"We don't have the ink or the film to deal with the stories that are less than flattering about downtown," said Kalkoff. "These folks allow us to take the water cooler approach."

Kalkoff said now that all these projects are under way and the money is invested, the challenge is to keep downtown a community priority. He said the city needs to keep evolving to be really successful.


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