Duke Joins Launch of Durham ‘Innovation District’

Durham's newest development will spur life sciences research by Duke and others

scott selig

Duke associate vice president Scott Selig spoke at the unveiling of the new Carmichael Building Wednesday, saying this "is a place where Duke can interact with the community." Photo: Les Todd/Duke University Photography

Duke researchers and administrators joined local political leaders, real estate developers and other members of the downtown community Wednesday morning to launch a major development project that seeks to create a vibrant neighborhood of research space, residences and commercial activity.

In all, Longfellow Real Estate Partners hope to add more than 1.7 million square feet of laboratories and mixed-use space between Duke Street and the Durham Athletic Park (the former home of the Bulls) that will bring together university scientists with an array of entrepreneurs and companies, especially in the life sciences.

The ceremony for the new Durham Innovation District, or Durham.ID, took place at Duke’s newest biomedical research facility, the Carmichael building, a former tobacco warehouse across North Duke Street from the Durham School of the Arts.

The 112,000-square-foot Carmichael building has been renovated for the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute (DMPI), whose researchers are using new techniques to study diabetes, obesity and other chronic metabolic disorders. Duke researchers there provide “a new model of collaborative science” that brings together “all aspects of players to enable us to address a range of chronic illnesses,” said Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth.

As it has elsewhere in downtown Durham in recent years, Duke worked with the project's developers to meet the university's growing space needs while spurring private development, said Scott Selig, Duke’s associate vice president for corporate assets and real estate. “This is not a ‘Duke place.’ It is a place where Duke can interact with the community,” Selig told the gathering. “Duke can help anchor the project, as we did at American Tobacco, but American Tobacco is not about Duke either.”

The Carmichael building, which previously housed county social services offices, is across a parking lot from the Power House building, which Duke recently renovated to provide a new home for the Duke Talent Identification Program.

Adam Sichol, who helped develop Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., and other life sciences projects around the country,  described Durham as “one of the most exciting urban centers in the country.” His company, Longfellow, is working to develop the district on land owned by Measurement Inc., which has its headquarters near the Durham Athletic Park.

The project is “a model for how you can create a 21st century city in a downtown area,” said Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who foresees the area attracting life sciences companies now dispersed across the area, as well as new companies.

Among those celebrating the new facility Wednesday was Deb Muoio, DMPI’s director of basic research.  “This is fantastic; I’m really excited to come to work here every day,” she said at the kickoff event, which attracted about 150 people. “We are hopeful our new downtown neighborhood will cultivate new entrepreneurial opportunities.”

Below Duke researcher Mike Hauser leads a tour of Duke research labs with Durham Mayor Bill Bell and local reporters Wednesday. Photo by Les Todd/Duke University Photo

carmichael tour