From death science to life science: The Chesterfield Building in Durham | News

From death science to life science: The Chesterfield Building in Durham

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 "Now ... Scientific Evidence on the Effects of Smoking!" a 1953 Chesterfield cigarette ad proclaimed, "no adverse on the nose, throat and sinuses" of Chesterfield smokers. Hey, the company, which made the coffin nails in a factory at Main and Duke streets in Durham, said nothing about their lungs.

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Now ... the former Chesterfield factory, which Liggett & Myers left in 2000, could become a hub for life sciences companies if the developer, Wexford Science + Technology receives $6 million in economic incentives to rehab the 284,000-square-foot building and erect a parking garage on nearby Gregson and Pettigrew streets, south of Brightleaf Square.

By a 7–0 vote, Durham City Council authorized the city manager to negotiate with Wexford to finalize the deal points. The proposal will come back to Council after its summer break, on Aug. 3.

See related PDF 10546_AGREEMENT_DRAFT_INCENTIVE_AGREEMENT_373248_648867.pdf

Last year, Wexford conducted an environmental cleanup inside of the building to prepare it for further construction, said Dan Cramer, senior vice president for development, but there has not been any activity since.

The $91 million project is envisioned to be "like American Underground," the downtown tech hub, but for life sciences, said Kevin Dick, the city's director of Office of Economic and Workforce Development. As many as (not to be a Debbie Downer, but it could be fewer) 710 "high-wage jobs" (again the amount can't be confirmed) could be created.

After the project is completed and the city verifies that the terms were met, it will begin paying the incentives over 15 years. The project is forecast to earn the city $8.6 million in property tax over the same time, generating about $2.6 million on the plus side. If the terms are not met, the city and county pay nothing.

The county is kicking in $2.6 million in incentives, which displeased several council members, including Diane Catotti. "i’m very disappointed in the county contribution," said Catotti, who announced earlier in the meeting that she is not running for re-election. "We asked in the past to go 50/50. We have to stop contributing unless they match it."

(Maybe she'll run for county commissioner.)
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Besides the seven-figure incentive, what piqued the council's interest was the prospect of parking. The draft agreement says 50 percent of the 765 spaces, some in a garage, other surface, would be free to the public evenings and weekends. The insufficient amount of parking downtown and near Ninth Street is a consistent complaint among residents and visitors. A parking study conducted by Kimley-Horn for the city shows there is enough parking, it's just not available where and when people want it.

Since the garage would be near Brightleaf Square, just on the other side of the railroad tracks, there is an opportunity to put retail stores and restaurants—known as liner shops—on the ground floor of the structure. Fewer things kill a street faster than a swath of surface parking or a bulky parking garage. Walk the Downtown Loop for a (de)personalized experience

Recent discussions about redeveloping the Loop have included liner shops in parking garages (although sadly, none are planned for the new Durham Police station garage) to enliven those cathedrals to cars. 

Unsurprisingly, the Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham, Inc., spoke in favor of the project, especially because it would create more top-level office space downtown. Ninety-three percent of the Class A space is occupied downtown.

However, the public may not feel so sanguine. Considering the spate of city incentives—$5.7 million to the 21c Museum Hotel for renovations and $4 million for the Durham City Center project, aka the skyscraper—there are already rumblings about the equity of who gets these financial breaks—large developers, not small businesses. Expect those to come to the forefront when Council takes up the issue again in August.

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